Scientists to urge making drug-driving a criminal offence

 

Driving under the influence of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy is one step closer to being outlawed, The Independent can reveal.

An expert panel will advise the Government about introducing a new offence of driving after taking an illegal drug. It will consider whether it is scientifically possible to introduce maximum levels for different drugs, similar to drink-driving limits, or whether any amount of drug should constitute an offence, according to the Department of Transport.

The move comes after the Prime Minister admitted the Government had dragged its feet over driving when drugged, which contributes to hundreds of deaths and injuries every year. Many US states have zero-tolerance policies to all drugs, legal and illegal. Last year, Sir Peter North's landmark report recommended much tougher action on drug-driving.

As the law stands, driving while unfit through drugs is an offence, but it is notoriously difficult for the police to implement. Police officers must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the driver was impaired as a result of a drug. But they cannot order a screening test, which requires a blood sample, until a doctor has assessed the driver. Getting a doctor to the police station quickly enough is often not possible.

New saliva-based drug testing kits are currently being considered by the Home Office to be used by police at the roadside like a breathalyser. The department has missed its own deadline to have such kits in police stations by the end of 2011.

UK drug and alcohol experts will not consider an outright ban on driving while under the influence of medications such as sleeping tablets or painkillers. They will, however, examine whether the existing impairment law should be applied to certain prescribed or otherwise legally obtained drugs. The scientists will also consider the complex areas of drug and alcohol interactions.

In 2008, drugs were suspected of playing a contributory role in more than 250 fatal accidents, but fewer than 170 drug-drivers were prosecuted. During the Christmas 2009 drink-drug driving campaign, fewer than 500 drug-driving tests were conducted, compared with 223,000 alcohol tests.

The experts, who will start work in the spring, will consider whether it is possible to identify the average blood level for common illegal drugs that have an impairing effect.

Dr Barry Logan, executive director of the Centre for Forensic Science Research and Education in Pennsylvania, said: "Most toxicologists agree that you cannot reliably set an equivalent number for these drugs the way we have dealt with alcohol. Most [US] states have opted for a zero-tolerance policy, where the limits are set more by what a lab can detect than by how much is needed to impair someone.

"The philosophy is that if you shouldn't be taking it, you shouldn't be driving after taking it."

In many American states this includes driving under the influence of prescription tranquillisers and strong pain killers. It is an absolute defence if you have a valid prescription, but you can still be charged with impaired driving.

Jo Bullock from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said: "This is a step forward in the fight against drug-driving which, together with new testing equipment, will help police catch and convict those driving under the influence of drugs."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Infrastructure / Network Engineer (VMware, Windows, LAN/WAN)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Primary teaching jobs in Thetford

£1036224 - £1513056 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Educatio...

Primary teaching jobs in the Swaffham area

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a fully quali...

Year 1 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week