Every driver involved in an accident would be tested to see if they are on drugs, under plans being considered by ministers.
Drug-drivers under the influence of illegal substances while behind the wheel are blamed for hundreds of road deaths each year – yet routinely escape prosecution because it is difficult to prove the link between their drug-taking and driving impairment.
But for the first time a Transport-commissioned report sets out a range of specific drug-drive ‘thresholds’ above which the drivers will face prosecution in future.
The report proposes following Norway, where all motorists involved in a crash are routinely subjected to a blood test for drugs as well as alcohol.
It sets out, drug by drug, including cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, and Ecstasy, the level in a driver’s system that will create ‘a risk of serious or fatal injury when driving under the influence’.
The proposed threshold for cocaine is 5 micrograms (mcg) per litre of blood. For amphetamine it is 600mcg per litre of blood, 300mcg for ecstasy and 5mcg for THC, the active ingredient of cannabis.
A microgram is a millionth of a gram. In each case, the limit is lower when mixed with alcohol.
Significantly it paves the way for new roadside drug-tests, arrests and prosecutions to be introduced next year.
The roadside test will use use newly developed ‘druganalyser’ which will measure whether the drug limits have been exceeded.
Drug-drive thresholds have been set ‘at a level above which driving is considered dangerous and the risk of having a road traffic accident is significant.’
It also sets out combined drug-and-drink drive limits for motorists who currently take a ‘cocktail’ of drugs mixed with levels of alcohol below the drink-drive limit to get a ’high’ while evading prosecution.
- Experts have analysed levels of substances likely to cause a crash
- Roadside tests expected by 2014 to arrest and prosecute drug-drivers
- Motorists on prescribed medication such as morphine will not be penalised
This measures the amount of each individual drug in a driver’s system that should lead to prosecution if used in conjunction with a small amount of alcohol – a quarter of the amount that would constitute a drink-driving prosecution. The current drink-drive limit is 80 mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood.
The so-called ‘dual limit’ to catch people combining drugs with alcohol has been set because evidence suggests this ‘significantly increases the risk of a traffic accident compared to when driving under the influence of low concentrations of a single substance on its own’.
But experts also emphasize that the levels have been set at a level which will not see innocent drivers on prescribed drugs for heath conditions including anxiety or cancer being unfairly prosecuted.
The crack-down could save up to 200 lives each year according to the author of the ground-breaking independent report which was commissioned by the Transport Secretary.
Offenders found guilty of drug-driving will face an automatic ban of at least 12 months, up to six months in jail and a fine of up to £5,000.
The report was welcomed by motoring groups and will go out to consultation this summer with legislation in place by 2014.
AA president Edmund King said: 'We know in the past that some young drivers have avoided drug detection by taking a small amount of alcohol so that if stopped they would not fail a breathalyzer.
'The experts have suggested drug limits set to mirror the limits for drink driving. If alcohol and drugs are both present, then the drug limit will be set lower.'
He said the new offence would remove the need for cumbersome field impairment tests which include standing on one leg but would require police enforcement, education and resources.
Neil Greig director of policy and research The Institute of Advanced Drivers said: ‘This is the biggest step forward in the drug driving debate since drugs first started to feature in crashes.
'It sends a very strong message that it is unacceptable to have drugs in your system behind the wheel.
During 2011 at least 640 accidents were caused by drug-drivers using both illegal and medicinal substances.’
The independent report drawn up by an expert panel led by Dr Kim Wolff, is called ‘Driving under the Influence of Drugs ‘.
Dr Wolff, reader in Addiction Science at King’s College London, was asked by the Department for Transport to make recommendations about which drugs listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) should be covered under the new drug driving offence, and to consider what thresholds for these drugs should be set.
But the Government also promised that the new offence of drug-driving will not unduly penalize those on properly-prescribed medication.
In relation to morphine, for example, the panel recommended a drug-drive limit significantly above the concentration of morphine in the blood that a cancer patient might have been prescribed.
The panel said the Government should emulate Norway where blood samples are routinely collected at all road traffic accidents and analysed to create a national database providing ‘much-needed evidence of the consequence of drug-driving’.
The new offence of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the body is included in the Crime and Courts Bill, currently before Parliament.
Dr Wolff stressed thresholds were based on clear and ‘extremely compelling’ evidence which showed which level of a drug significantly increased the ‘risk’ of a crash.
This gets around the more difficult issue of defining which level of ‘impairment’ will lead to a crash, or of setting a ‘zero-tolerance’ level of any trace of a drug in the systems.
However, more work needs to be done on so-called ‘legal highs’ – substances which fall outside the legislation on drugs – to see if and how they too could be brought under the umbrella of the new legislation, says the report.
In January the Home Office approved a device for testing for cannabis at police stations by taking a mouth swab. Testing capability for other drugs is also being developed.
Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond said: ‘Drug driving wrecks lives. This is why we are committed to cracking down on this problem, whilst being careful not to penalize drivers who take prescribed drugs perfectly legitimately.
We will closely consider this report and work with the police, medical specialists, and road safety experts before putting forward more detailed proposals for consultation later in the year.’
He said: ’We are clear that the design of the new offence must send the strongest possible message that you cannot take any amount of illegal drugs and drive. ‘
But he added:’We must also ensure that the new offence would not unduly penalize drivers who have taken properly prescribed or supplied drugs in line with medical advice.’
Publishing today the 205 page report which sets out the proposed new drug-drive limits Dr Kim Wolff said: ‘There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence about the extent of the road safety problem associated with drug driving, with some indication that drug driving may be a factor in 200 deaths per year in the general driving population.
‘The panel has focused on the risk of serious or fatal injury when driving under the influence of specific drugs compared to driving having not taken these substances, and investigated the particular drug concentrations in blood.’
Dr Wolff said her panel scrutinized scientific evidence about how each drug affects the general driving population alongside information on thousands of road traffic accident cases and witnessed impairment linked to drug driving
'Based on this data, recommended thresholds have been set at a level above which driving is considered dangerous and the risk of having a road traffic accident is significant.,' she said
It recommended a 'dual limit’ for drivers found with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol because ‘evidence suggests this significantly increases the risk of a traffic accident compared to when driving under the influence of low concentrations of a single substance on its own. ‘
A public awareness campaign as also needed to tell otherwise innocent drivers of the effect their prescription drugs could have on their driving.
Proposed drug-drive thresholds for prosecution
Author: Ray Massey, Daily Mail Online
Date: March 7, 2013
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.