Tackling ‘hidden’ menace of drug-driving

Combatting drug driving has come a step closer with the unveiling of a mobile drug testing device at last week’s Roads Policing Conference.
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Drink driving has become socially unacceptable, with the number of arrests and accidents falling in recent years. But the authorities are increasingly concerned that wider drug use in society as a whole is leading to higher incidences of drug driving. New penalties for drug driving – which includes driving under the influence of legal prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies – come into force in March.

Going to pot

The latest testing kit, the Securetec DrugWipe 3S (known as ‘Drugwipe’), is the first portable device that can detect the presence of cannabis and cocaine – two of the most common substances used by drug drivers. It works by analysing a small quantity of saliva and results are indicated by the appearance of lines on the device – much like a pregnancy test. The device will cut down the time it takes to identify whether drivers are under the influence. If the test reads positive, the police will take the individual to the police station for a blood sample, which will be used in any subsequent prosecution.

Penalty decision

The drug driving penalty regime coming into force in March allows for 12 months’ disqualification, a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six months in prison, or both. It also sets limits for eight illegal drugs at very low levels to tackle illegal drug use and driving, and is the biggest shake-up of drug driving laws for 85 years. Taking advice from doctors and medical professionals, the government decided not to enforce a zero tolerance policy in case of accidental exposure to drugs, for example inhaling cannabis in an open space or having traces still present in the system despite the side effects wearing off.

Acid test

The new limits include 10 micrograms of cocaine, two micrograms of cannabis and one microgram of LSD per litre of blood.
driver pulled over by police
For prescription drugs, limits include 80 micrograms of morphine, 500 micrograms of methadone and 550 micrograms of diazepam per litre. In July last year, the government issued guidelines to healthcare professionals on how clinical advice should be given to patients on prescribed medication where side effects can impair driving.

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