A new law designed to make it easier for police to catch and convict drug drivers has come into effect today (2 March) in England and Wales.
To support the legislation change, the THINK! team has launched a new awareness campaign on radio, online and in pub and club washrooms.
The legislation makes it illegal to drive with certain drugs in the body above specified levels, including eight illegal drugs and eight prescription drugs. People using prescription drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalized.
The penalties for people who drive after taking illegal drugs include loss of licence for at least a year and a fine of up to £5,000.
Police will have new equipment to screen drivers for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. They will also be able to test for these and other drugs including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station, even if a driver passes the roadside check. New devices that can test for a greater number of drugs at the roadside will be developed in the future.
In new research conducted by THINK!, almost half of those surveyed (49%) said that as a passenger they would not feel comfortable asking a driver if they were under the influence of illegal drugs.
Of those who admitted to driving under the influence of illegal drugs, 55% said they did so because they felt safe to drive; and 60% revealed they had previously driven a car when they were unsure if they were still under the influence of illegal drugs.
The THINK! campaign explains that drugs can affect the ability to drive in numerous ways, ranging from slower reaction times, erratic and aggressive behaviour, an inability to concentrate properly, nausea, hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, tremors (or ‘the shakes’) to dizziness and fatigue.
It also explains that taking a mixture of drugs to ‘sharpen up’ doesn’t work and that, in fact, combining drugs can have “dramatic and unpredictable effects on a user’s state and ability to drive”.
The campaign also urges passengers not to accept a lift from a driver they think may have taken drugs.
Dr Kim Wolf, reader in addiction science at King’s College London and an advisor for the Government drug drive policy, said: “It is worrying to note that so many drug drivers said they felt safe to drive after taking illegal drugs.
“In many cases those who take certain illegal drugs believe that they are safe to drive, but are in fact putting themselves and others at risk. “Greater awareness of the dangers of drug driving is important as we move forward with this important step towards safer roads.”