New drug driving law should stop "reckless few gambling with lives of others"

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New drug driving law should stop "reckless few gambling with lives of others"

8th May 2012

A road safety expert has welcomed news that drug driving in England, Scotland and Wales will become a specific offence under new laws expected to be announced this week.

In a move personally backed by David Cameron – who met the family of a 14-year-old schoolgirl killed by a drug-driver in South London last year – ministers are acting to end the anomaly which has previously required police to prove a motorist’s driving was impaired by drugs to enable a successful prosecution.

“The risks of driving whilst under the influence of drugs are huge and the consequences devastating,” said Joanna Bailey, an expert in serious road collisions with Fentons Solicitors LLP and spokesperson for Brake the road safety charity. “Drug driving is completely unacceptable, but for too long the law has been completely inadequate. It is hoped these new laws successfully deter the reckless few who continue to gamble with their lives and the lives of others.”

Road safety charities have been calling for a change in the drug driving laws for many years, to make it easier to prosecute those who flout it.

“Our drink-drive laws enable the prosecution of drivers shown to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood, regardless of whether it can be shown that their driving was impaired,” said Joanna, a partner with the firm. “But this has not been the case for drivers who have used drugs up until now. Hopefully the new law for drug driving will make it much easier to prosecute offenders.”

The new law, which is to be included in the Crime, Communications and Court Bill, will cover the misuse of prescription medication as well as illegal drugs. The offence, set to be announced in the Queen’s Speech will be enforced by the use of roadside drug screening devices known as ‘drugalysers’ which should be in place by the end of the year.

Their use will enable police to make arrests without requiring suspected offenders to perform so-called Field Impairment Tests (FIT) which commonly involve motorists having to perform tasks such as balancing on one leg or estimating when 30 seconds have elapsed with their eyes closed.

“Under the new law, saliva samples can be taken at the scene and those who fail will be taken to a police station for a second test to provide evidence that can later be used in court,” said Joanna. “Police will no longer have to wait for the arrival of a doctor to take blood samples, and anyone who refuses to co-operate will be committing an offence similar to that of refusing a breath test.”

It is expected that both roadside and police station testing devices will receive Home Office approval in the next few months. They will be designed to screen for up to 13 drugs including crack cocaine, cannabis and some prescription drugs. The machines will also be capable of being updated as often as every month in the event that new drugs emerge on the market.

Under the plans, motorists found guilty of drug driving could face fines of up to £5,000 as well as a six month prison term and a minimum 12 month ban from driving.

“Drug driving is as irresponsible as drink driving and it is crucial it is viewed and treated in the same way by the law,” said Joanna. “In the UK, around 18 per cent of people killed in road collisions have traces of illegal drugs in their blood, with young drivers under the age of 25 nearly four times more likely to drive whilst under the influence of drugs than their older counterparts.

“For the past decade, successive governments have pledged to tackle the menace of drug driving with little or no action taken beyond words,” added Joanna. “Although I wholeheartedly welcome the proposed new law, the delay in implementing such measures - despite repeated calls by road safety campaigners and in light of the success such legislation has been shown to have had in countries such as Germany, Australia and Finland - has meant many families have had to pay a terrible cost in losing loved ones as a direct result of drug driving and inadequate legislation.”

Read more at BBC News