Tackling the dangers of drug driving

Friday, 22 October, 2010

Images courtesy of Concateno

In comparison to drink driving, drug driving is poorly understood. Despite this, it is increasingly recognised as a concern for road safety, and is coming under close scrutiny, particularly given the 'enforcement and education' advances made overseas, and the subsequent improvements seen in countries such as Australia.

Recently, the Transport Select Committee called for evidence for its Inquiry into Drink and Drug Driving Law. Prior to this, Sir Peter North QC CBE called for a "step-by-step assault on drug driving" in the publication of his North Review report - an independent study commissioned by the Department for Transport, and the first major evaluation of drink and drug driving law in 34 years. The North report contained 23 recommendations specific to drug driving, including a call for the earliest possible introduction of drug screening devices to identify those driving under the influence of illegal substances.
In its programme for government, the new administration set out its own clear commitment on the issue with its intention to introduce devices to detect drug driving: "We will...switch to more effective ways of making our roads safer, including authorising 'drugalyser' technology."

Field impairment tests - low uptake for drug driving

Drug driving is a clear offence in this country, but the question of impairment makes enforcement difficult. The Field Impairment Test (FIT) is the current method of detecting those driving under the influence of drugs. It relies on specially trained traffic officers observing an individual's performance in physical and mental skills tests.
Yet the FIT is not used consistently as a matter of course by all forces. Recent ACPO statistics highlight a huge difference between the numbers of tests conducted for drug driving compared to those for drink driving. They also show that a proportionately higher number of drivers tested positive for drugs than for alcohol:
• Police conducted 223,423 breathalyser tests for alcohol - three percent were positive, failed or refused
• In comparison, just 489 Field Impairment Tests were carried out for drug driving - with 18 percent arrested
• The total number of drink driving tests was up by almost 22 percent
• This compares to less than a two percent increase in drug driving tests

Overseas practice

Many countries have introduced testing programmes to detect drivers under the influence of illicit drugs. The procedure varies country by country, but generally sees the use of portable devices at the roadside or back at the police station to screen for pre-specified drug groups, with positive results verified by laboratory analysis. These initiatives typically follow a 'zero tolerance' approach, making it illegal to drive with specified named substances in a driver's system and thereby avoiding the impairment issue.

Concateno: drug driving test

An onsite, portable saliva testing solution such as Concateno's Cozart® DDS® is currently being used for roadside testing programmes in various countries including Australia, Croatia, Italy and Spain, where police can detect up to six different drugs from a single oral fluid sample in a matter of minutes.
Sampling takes approximately 30 seconds, results for the presence of six drugs are displayed in five minutes, and two drugs in 90 seconds.
While unable to be used at the roadside in the UK, the DDS is used in police custody suites as part of the Drug Interventions Programme (DIP), which tests individuals arrested for trigger offences for opiate and cocaine use. Under DIP, the DDS is currently used in 174 custody suites in England and Wales to carry out 240,000 tests annually.

Australia and drug driving

Concateno has been providing random roadside drug testing for the Australian police since 2004. The State of Victoria, which is at the forefront of the country's road safety initiatives, was the first in the world to effect a change in legislation and allow random testing. Other Australian states have subsequently followed, including Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.
Since the introduction of this testing regime in the State of Victoria a clear trend has been seen, with a significant reduction in the numbers of drivers that were confirmed as positive. Incidences of drivers detected with illegal drugs present halved over a five-year period, from one driver in 44 to one driver in 94, with a decrease in the involvement of illicit drugs in road trauma.

For more information regarding Concateno, please contact:

Carrie Lowe
Telephone: +44 (0)1962 893 893
Mobile: +44 (0)7554 014 188

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