Police to start testing drivers for drugs

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The Independent Online
Motorists will be forced to take roadside drug tests under plans being finalised by police chiefs. In addition, guidelines have recently been issued to all police forces advising patrol officers to look out for drivers under the influence of drugs.

The move is part of a larger anti drug-driving initiative that the police intend to launch later this year. Police scientists are at present in discussion with the private sector and law enforcement agencies in other countries to devise a roadside drugs- testing kit, similar to the breathalyser. The type of devices could involve testing urine or saliva.

Senior police officers fear thousands of deaths and injuries on the road are caused by people under the influence of drugs, both illegal substances and prescribed drugs such as sleeping tablets. A recent survey in Scotland found that about 1 in 5 people killed in road accidents had taken illegal drugs. From next month, people killed in road accidents are to be tested for drug abuse in a three-year Department of Transport survey.

Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) drugs committee, said of the roadside drug testing: "I am certain this is something we will be introducing. It is not a matter of if, but when."

A special police drug/ driving working party has been set up and intends to present its findings by the end of the summer. Acpo's traffic committee also met last week to discuss the issue.

The Police Scientific Development Branch is now looking for a roadside drug-testing kit. A German company is already working on a roadside saliva test which would detect cocaine, heroin and marijuana, but not ecstasy. There are already kits which can instantly detect whether someone has traces of drugs on their hands or clothes.

At present, under the Road Traffic Act, police can stop a motorist if they have "reasonable cause" to believe he or she is unfit to drive through drugs or alcohol, or if there has been an accident. If the driver appears to be under the influence of drugs, he or she can be taken to a police station for an examination by a doctor and a blood or urine test. The difficulty arises if the motorist fails to show any obvious signs of having taken drugs.

With a roadside testing kit, motorists could be quickly screened, as already happens in the breath test for alcohol. Anyone found to be drugs positive would then be arrested and taken for further tests.

It would be up to doctors to decide what concentration of drugs was dangerous for driving, but those caught with illegal substances in their bloodstream would not face drugs possession charges, as the police would also need to recover the drug before it entered the body.

The Government would probably need to establish limits for drug-driving and would need to bring in new legislation for roadside tests. However, the police are confident of pushing through their initiative. Chief Inspector Paul McElroy, on behalf of the Acpo traffic committee, said: "It will only be a matter of time before a device will be available to test illegal drugs. Once that is ready we will want to look at the issue of driving under the influence of prescribed drugs."