£2.3m campaign targets drug-drivers

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The Independent Online

A new £2.3 million advertising campaign warning of the dangers of driving after taking drugs is being launched in England and Wales today.

A television advert, being shown for the first time tonight before ITV1's Coronation Street, features a young man with enlarged pupils - a telltale sign of drug use.

It will warn motorists that police can spot that a driver is under the influence of drugs if they are pulled over.

The Department for Transport said one in five drivers killed in road accidents may have an impairing drug in their system.

The campaign also highlights that anyone convicted of drug driving will face the same penalties as motorists caught over the alcohol limit.

Anyone convicted of driving while unfit through drugs will get a minimum 12-month driving ban, a criminal record and a large fine.

Research by the Department for Transport showed one in 10 young male drivers reported being under the influence of drugs while driving.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told GMTV the £2.3 million campaign would be "money well spent" if it significantly reduced the number of deaths caused by "drug driving".

He said: "Our own research not only showed the high prevalence of drug driving but it also showed that particularly young men, when driving under the influence of drugs, do not accept that it is dangerous.

"This is really worrying because whereas with drink driving people accept that it is dangerous - it is a big social stigma, everyone knows that the law will come down hard on you and that you can kill - with drugs it isn't the same.

"What we are seeking to do with this advertising campaign is to bring about a cultural change, to get people, particularly young men, to take the same attitude to drug driving that for 20 or 30 years we have had with drink driving."

Philip Gomm, a spokesman for the RAC Foundation said: "The Government is right to target young people who take illegal drugs and then get behind the wheel. Young drivers are disproportionately likely to die on the roads - often from a mixture of inexperience, attitude and the misuse of drink and illegal substances."

"One of the things hampering the fight against drug-drivers is the lack of an equivalent to the roadside breathalyser, introduced in the late 1960s, to detect alcohol.

"The technology behind such a device to detect drugs is complex - given the range of drugs available and the time they take to pass through the body - but that is no reason not to spend time developing it.

"The benefits in terms of lives saved could be dramatic. There will also be a significant time saving for police officers."

He went on: "In countries such as Belgium, Portugal and Sweden police have a zero tolerance towards illegal drugs. If they are found in drivers' systems, they will be prosecuted - whether or not their driving is impaired. This is something which should be considered here alongside education programmes like this."

Kevin Delaney, head of road safety at the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists), said today: "We fully support the campaign which should raise awareness of the drug-driving problem. Without proper enforcement, however, the campaign will not fulfil its full potential."

Lord Adonis told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the aim of the campaign was to make drug driving "socially unacceptable".

He also said the Government was consulting on whether the law relating to driving under the influence of drugs should be changed.

"The offence at the moment is driving or attempting to drive while unfit through drugs," Lord Adonis said.

"We are looking at changing the law so that we could make it an offence simply to drive after taking illegal drugs which can impair the ability to drive."