Road Safety News

Drug driving to become specific offence - but IAM and ABD sound note of caution

Monday 7th May 2012

As expected, the Queen's Speech included plans for legislation to make drug driving a specific offence - but the IAM and ABD have both urged that the new law is used to detect impairment rather than simply prosecute drug users.

Currently police have to show that driving had been impaired by drugs in order to prosecute, but under the new law it will automatically be an offence to drive with certain controlled drugs in your body in excess of specified limits.  The government believes the law change will make it easier to prosecute.

The proposed law is to be included in the Crime, Communications and Court Bill. Offenders could face a jail term and fine of up to £5,000 as well as an automatic driving ban of at least 12 months.

Police will use a hand-held drug detection devices, which will take a saliva sample, as well as a breathalyser. The Home Office is expected to approve the devices by the end of this year. The exact drugs covered by the offence and the specified limits for each will be decided following advice from the expert panel and public consultation.

David Cameron, prime minister, said: "We want to do for drug-driving what drink-driving laws have done for driving under the influence of alcohol. That's why we're doing what we can to get drugalysers rolled out more quickly."

 Mike Penning, road safety minister, said: "Drug-drivers are a deadly menace - they must be stopped and that is exactly what I intend to do. The new offence sends out a clear message that if you drive whilst under the influence of drugs you will not get away with it. This measure will help to rid our roads of the irresponsible minority who would risk the lives of innocent motorists and pedestrians."

Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “While we support the introduction of the drugalyser test and this offence, it needs to be backed up by some measure of impairment. Without this, the test could simply catch people who have used drugs at some point, but are not necessarily still impaired by them.

“Impairment as the key factor is also essential in tackling drivers who may have used over the counter or prescription drugs, which while legal, can have an equal impact on driving ability as illegal ones.”

The Association of British Drivers (ABD) urged similar caution. Brian Gregory, ABD chairman, said: “Like it or not, drug use is widespread amongst the younger population.

“Unlike alcohol, some drugs show up in 'drugalyser' tests many days after any effect has worn off.

“Whilst the irresponsible must be punished, safeguards must be put in place to ensure that what could be significant numbers of people who have acted responsibly, by not driving while under the influence of drugs, are not unfairly punished by traffic laws.  Any action against such individuals should use legislation on possession or use.”



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This is unfair. If you could get arrested for driving when you had a glass of wine a few weeks ago as it still showed up in your system it would be a different story. I enjoy smoking of a weekend - I don't drink alcohol as I suffer from reflux so this is my relaxation. I'm harming no one. The fact that my life could be destroyed by getting a criminal record for driving days or even weeks after smoking a joint is quite simply preposterous. I would never drive under the influence of anything. I need to drive for my job and would never risk doing anything illegal. There needs to be a realistic level set for cannabis use. Yes you should be arrested if you're off your face but not if you smoked in the last few weeks...that's just insane.
Pete Davies

Agree (5) | Disagree (1)

It disgusting that cannabis users are being put under such harsh judgement when many of them have smoked most of their lives and work and drive everyday with no problem. Yes there are a minority that react very badly to cannabis but those people are usually hyper sensitive to depression and irrationality, anxiety and psychosis and even in'sober' conditions these individuals are likely to suffer from a mental illness that causes a chemical and emotional imbalance in their brains, however, cannabis can also help ADHD,OCD,PTSD,MS,BPD and depression sufferers (all "disorders"/conditions caused by our exposure to a superficial and ever technologically developing environment). So cannabis can actually help these people drive more all depends on the nature of the subject and his/her natural mental stability..just being tired, stressed, nervous, angry can all effect your driving when you have never done a drug in your get to the point it is not the drug, it is the person.
Colette Faiad

Agree (11) | Disagree (2)

As a recently previous smoker (I have now not smoked for 2 weeks) if I got pulled over and failed said test would I be under the influence? Not a chance but would still be victimised as a 'drug driver'. The new law definitely needs to set a limit even if minimal, what happens if you go on holiday to Amsterdam and sample the delights of the coffee shops there which is perfectly legal then come home and get stopped a week later? You would fail the test and be prosecuted which is completely unfair because it would be infringing on your human rights so the government have a lot to do here to prove a driver was too impaired to drive.
Rich (uk)

Agree (64) | Disagree (3)

There have been many clinical studies which show the opposite, that users 'under the influence of canabis' are safer drivers. We hear less of this why? because the people carrying out these studies are trying to prove the opposite!

Canabis stays in the blood for up to a month and up to 3 in body fat and hair samples. So how can you convict a person of having had consumed cannabis possibly one month prior to being pulled over?

This new piece of legislation is shocking and should be based upon scientific evidence not just the media's and politician's power, blindly backed by the majority of the easily lead public, who believe everything they hear/see on TV and in the papers.
Benjamin, Tamworth

Agree (49) | Disagree (2)

Drugs are not acceptable in any shape or form. If someone is on medication then they should not drive, even medication from the chemist states "DO NOT DRIVE" when taking this medication. Those who are concerned about having smoked pot over a week ago are no better; drugs are drugs and I don't want those who take any form of "pot and dope" on the roads where I and my family are. Drink and/or drugs don't make for safe roads. They have a choice to become drug addicts or not, no one forced them into becoming drug dependent. Take all they want in their own back yard but leave the roads to those who appreciate that freedom.
Reg Oliver Derbyshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (79)

I noted that the majority of comments listed here are about illegal drugs; but how many people are treated for anxiety and how many of those drugs affect a person's reaction time? It is time a doctor when prescribing a drug stated this drug will affect your ability to drive; and it should be his responsibility to tell the DVLA.
Jim Mennie

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

I believe I’m correct in saying that drugs such as cannabis can be detected in a human being four weeks after consumption. Proving causation for an accident due to the driver having consumed cannabis four weeks earlier could be problematic but that is no excuse to sit back and do nothing about this growing epidemic within society. Given the fact that many people who have taken drugs and driven have also been found to have consumed alcohol, maybe the time is right to bring in a zero limit for both drink and drug driving which will remove any ambiguity with regard to consumption.
Charles Dunn

Agree (6) | Disagree (31)


I didn't make any reference to suggest that 'cannabis driving is quite low'. All the research we have undertaken shows that it's the opposite.

It's been the most prevalent drug cited by drug driving offenders in thousands of self completion surveys that we’ve undertaken.

Sadly it has also shown up in innumerable drug drive fatalities. Some of their parents’/girlfriends heartbreaking stories can be heard on www.

One of the many problems with cannabis is it slows drivers down as it’s a relaxant with similar effects to alcohol. They mistake driving slower as being ‘safer’.

According to Mix Mag’s latest survey (published March 2012) 64% of clubbers drug drive under the influence of cannabis. Although not a representative sample of the population...there are a lot of clubbers out there.

It’s time to stop making excuses. Having a driving licence is a privilege. With that comes responsibility. I strongly believe that anyone who takes illicit drugs and then drives a car should lose that privilege and reap the consequences.
Jan Deans CEO Dynamic

Agree (11) | Disagree (35)

Jan Deans 2 refs suggest cannabis driving is quite low:

Firefish: "6% of 18-34 year old drivers admit that they have driven after drugs"

TRPG: "up to 6% might have done so in the previous twelve months"

So the % of their mileage driven under cannabis could be very low.

And the BMJ says:

"15% aged 17-39 admitted to having consumed cannabis within 12 hours of driving".

That could be anything from twice a year to every day, which suggests crash risk might be quite high.

But even if risk is above normal, if users are banned without impairment being demonstrated in a nationwide targeted crackdown against them that includes stop and search, penalties for possession, taking their drugs, and forcing them to give DNA samples etc, the policy could have a wide range of negative side effects.

I'm concerned that this, like a lot of road safety, is based on good intentions without being properly thought through.

Perhaps I'm just too cautious?
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (9)

Dave, may I direct you to very recent medical research study findings and just one of the peer review responses:

Thursday, February 9, 2012
“Drivers who consume cannabis within three hours of driving are nearly twice as likely to cause a vehicle collision as those who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol claims a paper published today on
The paper's authors, from Dalhousie University, reviewed nine studies with a total sample of 49,411 people to determine whether the consumption of cannabis increases the risk of a motor vehicle collision.”

“Cannabis has harmful effects which include damage to people's ability to learn and carry out many tasks, including operating machinery and driving vehicles. Acute cannabis intoxication can also lead to panic attacks, paranoia and confused feelings. The chronic effects include damage to mental functioning and in particular to learning difficulties, which in prolonged and heavy users may not necessarily be reversible.”
Dr Osama Hammer MBBch.,MSc.,MRCPsych
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (22)

Of course we should have roadside drug testing now, but the real question we should all ask ourselves is: Why as a society do we accept and tolerate death by drivers?

Why did we as a nation not react with the same outrage to the needless death of Lillian Grove compared to that of Leah Betts who took a ecstasy tablet at a party in 1995?
Charles Dunn

Agree (5) | Disagree (3)

There are several million regular cannabis users in Britain, with possibly several million more occasional users. The drug is far less harmful to others and costs society minuscule damage compared to the damage by alcohol.

If it were actually possible to prevent all cannabis use in Britain completely, we might find people turn to alcohol or other drugs instead and then the problem, not just in road safety, could be far worse than we have now.

There is a possibility that spending cash we haven't got, on a policy that might not work, could make matters worse.

We must be careful what we wish for!
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (31) | Disagree (8)

This seems confused. Either the drugs are wholly illegal in which case any amount detected in the blood should lead to a prosecution on the base of use, or it's the imparement of the driver not the level of a drug in the system which is the key issue. Some drugs can leave trace in the system long after they have stopped impairing the driver. Is this law in danger of saying it's OK to use a little bit of an illegal drug? In which case where does the law on drug use stand?
Dave, Leeds

Agree (2) | Disagree (9)

If you read my first post you will see that I agree wholeheartedly with your comment.
There ISN'T any justice for her family. Their daughter's killer would get considerably longer for defrauding HMRC.

Unfortunately my last comment was cropped so I wasn't able to fully convey the frustration.

The reason we don’t know the exact figures is because we DON'T TEST for them. There are, on average, 650,000 breath tests taken annually and only a few thousand FIT tests (less than 1% of overall tests undertaken for drink driving) yet according to The Council of Europe (Pompidou research) UK drug drivers are 'among the worst in Europe'.

In Germany there are 34,000 convictions annually using British made drugalyser devices.

We need these at our roadsides NOW not stuck in police stations and certainly not at the end of this year. Otherwise, tragically, there will be many more like Lillian Groves who will lose their precious lives in the meantime.
Jan Deans Dynamic

Agree (9) | Disagree (11)

Jan, the new drug laws may be a fitting legacy to Lillian but there can be no justice for her family when her killer serves just eight weeks behind bars. This beautiful young girl had the right to live her life to the full and would have no doubt been a positive contributor to our society. We should all mourn the loss of this young girl whose life was ended so cruelly.
Charles Dunn

Agree (5) | Disagree (4)

To be fair to Dave, it is a common misconception that there is a small criminal sub group who recklessly indulge in drug driving. Unfortunately it is not. Nor has it been since we first started campaigning against it back in 2003 – led by Road Safety GB North East.

What we found from the initial 2500 survey responses among young people was a genuine fear of being caught drink driving and a complete lack of awareness of a) the effects of drugs on driving b) the potential penalties. Until the award winning ‘off your head’ initiative, no one had told drivers that they could potentially get exactly the same penalties as drink driving.

Drug driving isn’t a niche issue; taking drugs generally is highly prevalent. According to the latest British Crime Survey, 20% of 16-25 yr olds have taken an illegal drug in the previous 12 months.

Many offenders have been taking drugs longer than they’ve actually been driving. They don’t always connect the two. For them it’s a social norm which makes them feel good and is perceived as being ‘far less dangerous’ than drug driving. Some will actively choose to drug drive over drink driving assuming it’s safer and the likelihood of being caught is low.
Jan Deans Dynamic Group

Agree (14) | Disagree (1)

Dave, you may be interested in reading the following research, in addition to the recommendations of the North report:

The evidence suggests it is actually not the problem addicts that pose the biggest road safety risk, but those using drugs recreationally, and particularly in combination with alcohol, even in small amounts.

Also, let us not ignore the use of LEGAL drugs whilst driving, which can also have the same adverse effects.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (3)

Many people, particularly youngsters, have very limited understanding of alcohol/drugs and how long these substances remain in their bodies affecting their reaction times etc. Introducing this legislation seems like a reasonable start but needs to be balanced with a lot more education. Currently there is little or no requirement and commitment by many schools and colleges to provide accurate information of this type. The majority of students that we have spoken to are surprised by the information that we provide about alcohol consumption and levels in certain drinks, and how long they can be over the drink drive limit after a night out. Making legislation for enforcement is the easy part; implementing it and tackling the problem effectively is another matter.
Andy, Medway

Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

There have been research studies that have obtained reliable data showing that the number of people who admit to having themselves driven or been driven by someone under the influence of illegal drugs is up to 20% of some population groups – and not just the youngest drivers.

The evidence of how these drugs affect ability to drive, judge distance and speed and make decisions is impaired is well established. We could wait until we have undertaken a further 5 year study of drivers involved in at fault collisions to prove cause and effect. Or, we could use our judgement and simplify the law regarding drugs and driving and monitor that. And I agree that it should be monitored and analysed but that is not an excuse for doing nothing in the meantime.

What is the argument for permitting anyone to drive whilst under the influence of illegal drugs?
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (14) | Disagree (2)

Is there any actual evidence to support the use of precious resources on this?

Mr Penning is quoted as saying "...drug-driving is blighting this country..." but "We don't know exactly how many because we're not testing correctly..."

Obviously there may be a specific issue with some problem addicts who become criminals and their desperate lifestyle leads to them causing death or serious injury in a collision. This proposal gives the Police a simple way to lock them up, but is it tackling the symptom, rather than the cause?

And there are other concerns. If the Police are going to be able to force citizens to give saliva samples, how will a suspicious public be assured this won't be used to expand their DNA database?

As with many other road safety interventions, it looks like good intentions trump evidence, tolerance and civil liberties.
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (12) | Disagree (21)

Drug driving already carries a potential jail term , fine and inprisonment so these news reports are slightly misleading.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 4) makes it an offence to drive while 'unfit to drive through drink or drugs'.

The issue has been that the CPS hasn't given the same punishments as that of drink driving even when there has been sufficient evidence to demonstrate impairment.

So while a new 'zero tolerance' approach is to be welcomed it will only be effective if the CPS ensures the law is now upheld.

Lillian Groves' killer COULD have been charged for 'causing death through dangerous driving'. He was doing 42 mph in a 30 mph residential area. His car was also defective (would have failed an MOT) and he was driving without insurance. He only started braking at the point of impact.

So....what punishment for the life of a beautiful 14 year old girl with her whole life ahead of her?

8 weeks.

Where is the justice here?
Jan Deans Dynamic Group

Agree (18) | Disagree (3)