Government appoints experts to advise on drug driving

09.33 | 4 January 2012 | | 7 comments

The Government is asking a panel of experts to consider the scientific case for a new criminal offence of driving after taking an illegal drug (BBC News).

The panel of scientists and academic experts in the field of drug abuse will provide technical input on the effect of individual drugs, such as cocaine and cannabis, on drivers.

Sir Peter North’s independent report in 2009 concluded that the problem of drug-driving was "out of all proportion" to the official figures.

The panel will examine the evidence basis for a new criminal offence, how it could be defined, and whether it is possible to prescribe levels for the point at which different drugs impair a driver’s reactions and performance behind the wheel.

It is also expected to look at whether an individual’s ability to drive safely could be impaired by the use of prescription or other legally obtained drugs.

Mike Penning, road safety minister, said."We know how important it is to tackle the menace of drug-driving. That is why we are putting together a panel of experts to give us advice on the technical aspects of introducing a new offence of driving with an illegal drug in your body."

The Home Office has trialled new drug screening technology (‘drugalysers’) for use in police stations but has yet to approve specific devices.

Research conducted last year by Brake, the road safety charity, suggests more than 10% of 17-24 year olds have driven shortly after taking illegal drugs.

Ellen Booth, Brake’s senior campaigns officer, said: "We need the government to follow through with its commitment to tackle this problem. For too long the law on drug-driving has been totally inadequate.

"We need a ban on driving with illegal drugs in your system and we need roadside drugalysers. The longer this takes, the more lives will be violently and tragically lost."

Click here to read the full BBC News report.


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    The point I was trying to make is that if the police set up random checks for drug driving as they do with drink driving and a driver is proven to have a substance in their system would this driver be prosecuted and how if their driving was not impaired?

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    Jan Deans is on the mark. It doesn’t matter whether it’s alcohol or any kind of drug or a combination, if it impairs your driving you shouldn’t be on the road. However, there needs to be valid evidence of what effects these substances have and more publicity of the issues in the public domain. We’re back to education to change attitudes.

    David Midmer Grade 6 ADI and Fleet Trainer, Wirral
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    The appointment of a panel of experts can sometime fill you with dread, sometimes it can the best to happen in years. So lets hope this panel get it right, but I think that will be very difficult.

    The biggest problem with illegal drugs is the fact that they are illegal. Apart from those who supply, giving a list of ingredients no one knows what you are smoking, ingesting or injecting.

    Yes the substance is illegal but at what level is the drug? If the advice is the introduction of Drugalisers then will it pick up on all levels? The Police have obviously sufficient reason to stop the driver but if the drugaliser does not pick up the level and therefore allow the Police to arrest the driver then a Driver with illegal drugs in their system will be allowed to continue on their way. As the drugs are illegal, an hour later, 10 minutes later that same driver could be experiencing new more serious effects that impair their driving.

    I feel the only answer the experts can reach is a complete ban on driving with illegal drugs in your blood supply / system. Again unlike alcohol, a line has to be decided upon as for drugs in the system? Unlike alcohol 1 unit 1 hour. 1 joint ? who knows. If it’s a fatality and there is no trace of a substance in the blood but it could be found in the body, someone has to come up with prosecutable guidance for that. This is not going to be easy but lets hope the decision reached is right for the Police, right for the individuals and relatives of those who have been already affected by a drug driver, and that the law allows sufficient sentence for those convicted of drug driving.

    Yes I know I have only talked about illegal drugs and there are issues with prescription and over the counter but that’s another chapter.

    Picking up on Jan point “that some drugs such as cannabis ‘enhance’ driver behaviour” type the following into You Tube and download. “Motor Accident Commission – Drug Driving Campaign” It’s a very good clip to use in college or Pre / New driver sessions and deals with the issue of drugs enhancing your behaviour (not)

    Stuart Howarth
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    With regard to prescription drugs, these can also be dealt with using the existing law in England and Wales much as Tom referred to for Eire. The FIT test is relevant here.

    This is an issue for all age groups and is something that we focus on very specifically with young drivers, anyone driving for work – busineses and individuals – and for older drivers who may well use a combination of medicines both prescription and over the counter. We work with pharmacists to help us and our clients to understand potential effects.

    Our next step will be to work more closely with GP practices and their training schools to assess and address this issue via the prescriber and the pharmacist.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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    In Ireland, a Co. Waterford psychiatric nurse who was stopped by Gardai on suspicion of drunk driving while going home from hospital after treatment for a leg injury – tested negative for alcohol but positive for opiates after taking over-the-counter medicine. The driver said he had taken paracetamol, Brufen and NurofenPlus for the pain. He was convicted of not being in control of his vehicle, fined €600 and disqualified for six years.

    Tom Harrington LL B . Co. Kerry, Ireland
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    The issue I have with drugalisers is some drugs can stay in your system for weeks long after the effects have worn off.

    Also is the drugalsier going to deal with the huge issue of medicinal drugs that are in peoples system that can affect driving.

    Don’t get me wrong but drug driving is wrong and people who are taking drugs and driving need to be prosecuted and taking of our roads but legally we have to make sure our systems are correct in order for prosecutions to stand up in court.

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    This is a positive step forward in the long and weary battle to get the dangers of drug driving into the public consciousness.

    Since RSGB North East first launched their award winning ‘off your head’initiative in 2006 – subsequently run across most major regions in the UK – the feedback from over 25,000 online respondents showed the same things, namely;
    1. It’s a major road safety issue among younger drivers in particular
    2. There’s a distinct lack of awareness of both the dangers and the potential penalties and
    3. The issue is rife with misconceptions (i.e the mistaken belief that some drugs such as cannabis ‘enhance’ driver behaviour because it slows them down)

    If we are serious about reducing young driver & passenger KSIs, we need to be equally serious about tackling this relatively hidden issue and give it the same prominence as drink driving.

    All the heartbreaking case studies we have recorded over the years stand in testimony to this.

    Jan Deans – Road Safety GB Drug Driving Specialist
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