The issue of drug driving has been very much under the spotlight recently, with several organisations calling for greater action to tackle this crime and reduce the number of needless deaths and injuries on the country’s roads.
In Scotland, road safety charity Brake has called on the Government to follow the example it set with regards to drink driving and introduce a new law to tackle drug driving.
Scotland was the first country in the UK to lower the drink drive limit to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. The rest of the UK retains 80mg limit, which is higher than all other EU countries except Malta, although Northern Ireland has plans to introduce a lower limit shortly. Brake says that now is the time for Scotland to take the next step and introduce a zero-tolerance policy for drug driving.
A survey conducted last year by Brake and Direct Line found 7% of respondents had driven while under the influence of drugs. As many as half of these admitted they did so on a weekly basis.
While lagging behind Scotland with regards to drink driving legislation, England and Wales introduced a zero tolerance drug driving ban in 2015, which made it a specific offence to drive after taking with certain controlled drugs (both illicit and some prescription-only drugs). However, this law does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Following the introduction of the drug driving ban in England and Wales, there was apparently a sharp increase in the number of drug-driving arrests. Just under 8,000 drivers were arrested for the offence between March 2015 and April 2016 and the number of convictions for careless driving under the influence of drugs also rose from 1,039 in 2014 to 1,490 in 2015.
The need for more action on drug driving has also been raised on an international level, with a new report from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) calling for increased levels of enforcement, specialist rehabilitation programmes and more investment in research and data collection to tackle the problem.
Figures from Europe suggest that between 3% and 16% of drivers say they have driven under the influence of drugs within the last 12 months. The EU average is 11%.
ETSC says that enforcement, including roadside screening and post-collision forensic testing needs to be stepped up. The primary deterrent factor against drug driving is apparently perceived risk of detection but only 11% of drivers think that on a typical journey there is a big or very big probability of facing a police drugs test.
Specialist rehabilitation programmes for convicted drug drivers reduce reoffending, but ETSC says more work needs to be done to ensure that the schemes match the effectiveness of the best drink driving rehabilitation programmes. It has also called for drug driving programmes to be regulated and common standards introduced.
“Drug driving destroys thousands of lives every year. It’s a complex problem, but one that must nevertheless be tackled,” said Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of ETSC. “Technology can help, but enforcement, rehabilitation and research are also vital to understanding and tackling this evolving challenge. Governments can learn from each other, and the EU also has a role to play in promoting common standards, better data collection and research.”
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