Drug Driving – The Clamp Down

Here we take a look at the issue of driving under the influence of drugs and consider the measures being taken to prevent such behaviour in the future.

The Facts 

A study conducted by confused.com in June 2013 revealed that 1 in 5 motorists have driven a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of drugs.

A staggering 19% of people who took part in the survey admitted to having driven under the influence of drugs. 12% of which were using prescription drugs and the other 7% were using illegal drugs.

However, these figures are remarkably different to the data that was obtained from the Police forces across the UK. The figures obtained show a decrease in arrests for drug driving of 12.5% in 2012 from the previous year. With the figures for 2013 not yet released, it’s impossible to comment on whether or not the amount of arrests has followed suit and decreased or that the ever-evolving drug scene has resulted in more people taking a chance behind the wheel.

The disparity between 19% of people who took part in the survey and the figures obtained from the Police forces across the UK would suggest that either confused.com happened to coincidently survey an unfortunate number and self-confessed drug drivers or that the Police are not clamping down on the issue.

The “Drugalyser”

It would appear that one of the Government’s New Year Resolutions is to tackle this issue head on, with Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, announcing the Government’s intention to plough £120,000 into the production and distribution of a new device being dubbed the “Drugalyser”.

Eleven forces across Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Greater Manchester will be provided with the new technology aimed at converting arrests for drug driving into more convictions. As things stand, if police suspect a driver of taking drugs and then getting behind a wheel, a doctor must be called out to the station to take a sample. It is then at the individual doctors discretion as to whether to carry out further tests.

The new “Drugalyser” will work in a similar way to a breathalyser apart from it will be analyse a suspect’s saliva. The new test will only be able to detect cannabis but with 6.4% of the population allegedly using the drug, much higher than any other narcotic, the “Drugalyser” will have the desired effect in catching the majority of drug drivers.

Since the high profile case of Lillian Groves, a 14 year old that was killed outside her own home by a drug driver in 2011, the Prime Minister vowed to introduce new legislation, as the present legislation is deemed inadequate. The driver, John Page, was never charged with any drug offence and was sentenced to just 8 months in prison for death by careless driving.

The awareness of drug driving has since snowballed with T.V adverts and national campaigns trying to instil a realness of the ever growing problem.

200 deaths on British roads every year are caused by drug driving but with current laws the way they are, drug drivers are 50 times less likely to be convicted than drink drivers. This is because drug drivers are currently prosecuted under the legislation of “driving whilst impaired through drink or drugs”. Amazingly, half of these cases collapse as the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service are often unable to prove that, firstly a person’s driving was impaired and that secondly, the impairment was due to drugs.

Moving Forward 

New laws to be introduced in the summer will make drug driving an offence in its own right and the new tests will form the basis of the prosecution when cases are brought against drivers accused of taking drugs. The abuse of prescription drugs will also be covered by the new law along with the use of illegal narcotics, although cannabis can only be detected by the new tests. Anyone convicted under the newly proposed legislation will face an automatic 12 month ban as well as facing up to six months in jail and a £5,000 fine. The application of a “zero tolerance” approach would be difficult, given that the majority, if not all, illegal drugs can be detectable for some time after consumption.

If a person used cannabis 6 weeks prior to being tested by the Police and a negligible trace of the drug is found does that make them guilty of drug driving even though it cannot be said that the drug impaired their ability to drive?

One suspects that the answer to this would be a resounding ‘No’.  In reality, a similar system to that adopted when dealing with drink driving will be applied, with specified limits.

The Bottom Line 

New legislation and new ways to detect drug driving should hopefully lead to a reduction in the number of drug drivers on the road. In an era where the use of cannabis and ‘legal highs’ is becoming more popular, only time will tell if David Cameron and Patrick McLoughlin have tackled the issue adequately.

Find Out More

To find out more about drug driving law and how we can help you, visit our drug driving page, or call our expert solicitors on 0800 804 8159

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