Drug users who drive face police crackdown

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The Independent Online

Festival-goers who take illegal drugs then drive home afterwards will be targeted in a major government campaign this summer.

Festival-goers who take illegal drugs then drive home afterwards will be targeted in a major government campaign this summer.

The "zero-tolerance" campaign follows a six-fold increase in the number of road accidents caused by motorists who use cocaine, cannabis or ecstasy then get behind the wheel of their vehicle, often with fatal consequences.

A new anti-drug-driving crackdown will be launched this June at Glastonbury, Europe's largest music festival. Ticket-holders will be issued with special credit-card-size expandable flyers which warn them of the dangers of driving while on drugs.

Department of Transport officials confirmed they are also in the process of drawing up plans to target other events, including the V music festivals in Chelmsford and Staffordshire.

Official figures show that around 18 per cent of people fatally injured in road crashes are found to have traces of illicit drugs in their bodies. This compares with a figure of 3 per cent 15 years ago.

A major EU study, based on hospital samples from road victims and the results of roadside tests, is also expected to show that drug-driving is widespread in Britain.

The maximum penalty for drug-driving is six years in prison. Since last December police forces have been able to force motorists to undergo roadside tests to see if their responses have been impaired by drug-taking.

Officers from 39 forces have been trained to carry out these tests, which include checking to see if a driver can stand with one foot off the ground without swaying. A positive drugs test is not sufficient proof that a motorist is incapable of driving.

Road safety experts and scientists are currently in the process of developing a more sophisticated process of gauging the impact of different types of drugs on driving ability. There are devices on the market which test for the presence of drugs in the blood or in urine. But these cannot determine how different drugs impair driving.

Brake, the road safety charity, warns that nearly a million drivers on the roads could have taken illegal drugs in the past year based on research it has carried out. It will call on the Government to step up levels of enforcement on drink and drug-driving at a conference this Thursday in London. The charity says that driving while under the influence of drugs as well as drink is a "growing menace on our roads".

"Every week people lose their lives because of drivers who choose to get behind the wheel while impaired, and it is often young people whose lives are needlessly cut short," said a spokeswoman.

Dr Rob Tunbridge, an expert on road safety and drug- driving, said the impact of drugs on motorists was harder than alcohol to determine because different types of drugs vary widely in their impact on the human body.

"Drugs can either make people overconfident about their ability to drive or induce drowsiness," he said.