Latest police figures released this week show drink driving continues to be a menace on UK roads, but drug driving could quickly catch up and become as big a threat to road safety unless policymakers act quickly.
The figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) reveal that 37.7% of drivers stopped for suspected drug driving over Christmas had drugs in their bloodstream compared with the 6.6% of motorists that failed alcohol breathalyser tests.
Studies also show that nearly one-in-five motorists killed on our roads had some kind of illicit drug in their bloodstream, a six-fold increase over 10 years and nearly as high as alcohol fatalities.
Just 666 drivers were tested for impairment through drugs by police over the Christmas period, however, compared with more than 145,867 alcohol tests. The problem is that police have no equipment for roadside testing of suspected drug drivers, so have to use various balancing tests which some drug drivers treat as a joke. ACPO describes the process as ‘bureaucratic and difficult to enforce.’
What Car? group editor Steve Fowler said: ‘It’s right that the Home Office should set high standards for the approval of roadside drug driver equipment, but it’s clear that roadside ‘drugalyser’ tests are desperately needed.
‘The drug driver we spoke to on our podcast thought he had little prospect of being caught at the moment, but said he would instantly stop if the police could test him with proper equipment by the roadside.’
There’s no telling when this kind of equipment might be approved by the Home Office. A key police officer told us they will wait as long the Home Office wants, but leading independent drug impairment expert Dr Rob Tunbridge, said: ‘We need the equipment as soon as possible.
‘Brits are some of the worst drug driving offenders in Europe, and drug driving could become as serious a problem in the UK as drink driving. Many people just don’t realise the effects that illegal drugs have on their ability to drive and to think straight, and this may be part of the reason why young people in particular continue to drive while impaired by drugs’.
Leading motor insurer MORE TH>N has identified drug driving as one of the most serious sources of emerging risk on Britain’s roads and is pushing for the speedy introduction of roadside drugs screening devices similar to those being used successfully in other countries, including Germany, Switzerland and Australia. In Germany over 150,000 roadside saliva tests are performed each year to detect drug drivers. In the interests of responsible motoring, MORE TH>N is urging for the test to be introduced in the UK as quickly as possible, to better detect drug drivers and avoid further injuries and fatalities.
Their own research in this area identifies the frightening frequency of drug driving in the UK. Four per cent of drug drivers admit to getting behind the wheel while impaired several times every week and a further one in ten do so every month. Furthermore, the types of drugs that drivers are taking are changing for the worse, with a shift from ‘softer’ drugs like cannabis to harder drugs such as cocaine.
As well as alarming ignorance about the physical risks of drug driving, 10 per cent of the drug-drivers surveyed by MORE TH>N admitted they offend because they think they can get away with it. One third (32 per cent) said that they would be deterred if Police did more checks and a further 13 per cent if the punishment was more severe; this is surprising given the punishment for drug-driving is the same as drink-driving – ranging from a heavy fine to disqualification or imprisonment.