'One-In-Five Have Driven After Taking Drugs'

By Abrad · Jun 7, 2006 ·
  1. Abrad
    One-in-five motorists have driven shortly after taking illegal drugs such as cocaine or cannabis, reveals a shock new study.

    And one-in-14 (seven per cent) have been involved in a car crash while their driving was impaired by drug abuse, according to the report.

    Yet four-out-of-10 "drug-drivers" don't believe that their skills behind the wheel are affected after taking illegal substances.

    One deluded young woman motorist even described driving on drugs as "a fun experience."

    Now worried insurers say that British motorists are among the worst "drug-driving" offenders in Europe and are calling for the early introduction of roadside drug screening devices, similar to ones being employed in other countries including Germany, Switzerland and Australia.

    The research by financial firm More Than shows that although nine-in-10 people do not think that drug-driving is safe, 38 per cent of those who did admit drug-driving believe that their driving skills are not affected by drugs or that their behaviour is safe.

    In comparison, 94 per cent of those surveyed said that they would not get behind the wheel if they thought they were over the drink-drive limit.

    Mike Holliday-Williams, head of insurance at More Than, said: "Drug-driving presents a serious risk not only to those who choose to do it, but also to other motorists on the road.

    "For this reason it is vitally important that highly effective measures are put in place as quickly as possible to crack down on offenders.

    "We believe that roadside screening should be a practical reality within the next two years and urge the Government to introduce the test without delay".

    The frequency of drug-driving in the UK is frightening, according to the study of more than 1,000 adults.

    Four per cent of drug-drivers admit getting behind the wheel while impaired "several times every week" and a further one-in-10 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.

    Additional research found that the number of people admitting to recent cocaine use has increased by 144 per cent in just three years from February 2003 to February this year.

    There was also a nine-fold increase in British road fatalities with cocaine in their system between 1987 and 20003, the study found.

    Mr Holliday-Williams added: "It's crucial that this issue is tackled quickly if we are to avoid many more unnecessary deaths.

    "It would be difficult to find someone today who wasn't aware of the risks of drink-driving, and drug-driving is equally as dangerous.

    "Nobody can
    justify drug-driving – it's never safe, under any circumstances."

    Independent drug impairment expert and consultant to More Than, Dr Rob Tunbridge, said: "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.

    "Some 18 per cent of drivers killed in road accidents in this country have traces of illicit drugs in their bodies.

    "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".

    The Home Office is currently working on a specification for roadside drug screening device that experts say would greatly assist the police in identifying drivers who have taken drugs.

    Such a test, which uses body fluids like saliva or sweat to provide a drug check, would probably be employed in conjunction with the current FIT tests that rely on a police officer's judgement as to whether a driver is impaired by drugs or not.

    Dr Tunbridge added: "Used together they would allow Police to more accurately judge a driver's ability to safely operate their vehicle, give grounds to conduct a blood test if the roadside test showed positive, and then prosecute if the presence of drugs was confirmed.

    "This is a positive step in curbing the problem, but it is unclear when the test will become available for police forces to use routinely."

    Roadside drug screening devices are already in use in several countries including Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Australia and Germany.

    In Germany alone more than 150,000 roadside saliva tests are performed each year to detect drug driving offenders.

    As well as alarming ignorance about the physical risks of drug-driving, 10 per cent of the drug-drivers surveyed for More Than admitted offending because they think they can get away with it.

    A third (32 per cent) said that they would be deterred if the police did more checks, and a further 13 per cent if the punishment was more severe.

    Currently the punishment for drug-driving is the same as drink-driving, ranging from a heavy fine to disqualification or even jail.

    Among the worrying comments from people who took part in the More Than poll was a London woman in her late twenties who said: "At times driving on drugs is a fun experience, with music and the motion of the car."

    Another self-confessed female drug-driver, also in her twenties and from London, said: "I don't feel it affects my driving as much as alcohol. You don't feel like you've consumed as much."

    A London woman in her early thirties said: "I just didn't think about it and the car was the only way to get home" while another London woman drug driver in her early thirties said: "Having people in the car with you makes you feel more confident"

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