Motorists caught driving under the influence of drugs could be forced to undertake rehabilitation courses before their ban is lifted as part of a new government crackdown.
Ministers have called for a shake-up to punishments for drug drivers to address what it called an ‘underestimated social problem’ that has been on the rise in recent years.
Drug driving court cases have risen from just under 1,500 in 2015 to around 13,700 in 2020, such is the growing scale of the problem.
Records for the year previous suggest that more than two in five convicted drug drivers are repeat offenders.
Crackdown on drug-driving re-offenders: The Government has called for the introduction of compulsory rehabilitation courses for motorists who have been convicted for drug driving
The Government brought new legislation into effect in March 2015 to allow the police to perform roadside drug tests on suspected offenders using a roadside oral saliva drug testing kits – or ‘drugalysers’.
It is now an offence to drive with any of 17 controlled drugs above a specified level in your blood – this includes illegal and medical drugs, with limits set extremely low for illegal substances, though with some allowance for ‘accidental exposure’, such as passive smoking. The limits for prescription drugs are higher.
Officers can test for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside, and screen for other drugs, including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at the police station.
Even drivers that pass the roadside swap check can be arrested if the police suspect that your driving is impaired by drugs, such as if they can’t walk in a straight line when requested to do so.
Current rules dictate that anyone convicted of drug driving faces a minimum one-year driving ban on top of an unlimited fine.
Worse still, they could be given prison sentences of up to six months, with the offence retained on their criminal record as well as they driving licence – the latter appearing for 11 years.
For those committed of causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs, a prison sentence can be for up to 14 years.
Some 713 people were seriously injured in drug-driving collisions in 2020, up from 499 in 2016 – an increase of 43%. Police have been able to conduct roadside drug testing for less than a decade
Today, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed a call for evidence to back plans to make it more difficult for reoffenders to get back on the road.
It would see the introduction of a requirement for drug driving offenders to complete rehabilitation courses, similar to the non-compulsory courses those banned for drink driving are offered.
Drink-drive related deaths and injuries are now ‘very rare’ on UK roads, according to the Department for Transport, with casualty rates falling 88 per cent between 1979 and 2015.
That said, an estimated 220 people were killed by drink-drivers in 2020, according to the latest DfT data. They also accounted for more than 15 per cent of fatalities on the roads – up from 13.1 per cent the previous year – which is the highest death rate since 2009.
The 17 drugs tested by police
Police can use these roadside ‘drugalysers’ to test for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside, while others are tested using screening at police stations
Benzoylecgonine (cocaine) – 50 micrograms per litre of blood (µg/L)
Cocaine – 10µg/L
Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol) – 2µg/L
Ketamine – 20µg/L
LSD – 1µg/L
Methylamphetamine – 10µg/L
MDMA (ecstasy) – 10µg/L
Heroin and diamorphine – 5µg/L
Clonazepam (used to treat seizures and panic disorder) – 50µg/L
Diazepam (anti-anxiety) – 550µg/L
Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol – sedative) – 300µg/L
Lorazepam (anti-anxiety) – 100µg/L
Methadone (heroin substitute) – 500µg/L
Morphine (pain relief) – 80µg/L
Oxazepam (anti-anxiety) – 300µg/L
Temazepam (anti-anxiety and sedative) – 1,000µg/L
Amphetamines (eg dexamphetamine used for conditions such as ADHD) – 250µg/L
And drug driving instances have also been on a serious rise in recent years.
Some 713 people were seriously injured in drug-driving collisions in 2020, up from 499 in 2016 – an increase of 43 per cent in four years.
Some police forces now say they are arresting more drug drivers than drink-drivers, such is the scale of the problem.
In a statement issued today, Mr Shapps said: ‘Drink-driving is now rightly seen as a social taboo by most of us in this country and we have worked hard to drive down drink-drive related deaths.
‘But if we are to make our roads safer still, there is no room to be lax on drug-driving, which is why I have launched this call for evidence today.
‘It’s only right that drug-drivers must undergo rehabilitation before getting back behind the wheel, helping protect the public from this hidden problem and stamping out drug-driving for good.’
Statistics show non-attendees to optional drink-driving rehabilitation courses are over twice as likely to commit a new drink-driving offence within three years, so by offering high-risk drug-driving offenders the same support, Government hopes to bring down the number of repeat offenders.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes welcomed the proposals because ‘the evidence shows this helps to reduce reoffending and improves road safety’.
Professor Kim Wolff, MBE, King’s College London, added: ‘I was delighted to see the launch of the consultation on a High-Risk Offender (HRO) Scheme for drug-drivers and the Drug Driving Rehabilitation (DDR) course, as part of an ongoing programme of work being undertaken by the DfT to improve road safety.
‘Data gathered over the last 6 years has enabled the DfT to identify through an Expert Panel very high-risk drug-driving behaviours warranting the need for a High Risk Offender Scheme, which rolled out alongside the DDR will help improve driver behaviours as well as provide more general societal benefits.’
The call for evidence launched today (Tuesday 5 April) will also ask whether we should bring the way specimens are taken in line with current medical practice by using vacuum blood extraction, decreasing the risk of blood borne viruses to healthcare professionals.
It will also seek views on the relationship between medicinal cannabis and road safety, in another move to ensure road safety policy keeps up to date with changing societal norms.
And later this year, government will seek views on other drink and drug driving matters, such as failing to stop after a collision and the criminal use of vehicles.
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