By Alisdair Suttie 09 May 2012
Wednesday 9 May 2012. Fleet Voice Column.
Every driver who depends on their licence for their livelihood knows driving while under the influence of alcohol is only going to end in a ban, fine and possibly even a jail sentence. Yet there are thousands of drivers on Britain’s roads every day who think controlling a car while being influenced by drugs is acceptable.
Some of this myth stems from drug users believing the substances they have abused do not affect their driving or cannot be detected by the police. Others think they will only be given a slap on the wrists if caught with drugs in the car and they own up to a minor possession offence.
Not any more, as the government is set to introduce a specific drug-drive law in the Queen’s Speech this week. This will close up an anomalous loophole that has let thousands of drug-drivers off the hook with barely more than a telling off.
Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said: “This new law will give the police the powers to remove this blight from our roads.”
“People are being killed and seriously injured on a regular basis. We don’t know exactly how many as we’re not testing correctly at present, so the technology to detect drugs is being brought through.”
The so-called drugalyser, which will use the suspect’s saliva, is being considered by the police and is expected to be in full use by the end of 2012. Mr Penning admitted the assessment of five different saliva-testing drugalysers has taken longer than anticipated but it was important to get the right equipment to help the police tackle this problem.
As many as one in 10 young drivers is thought to have driven under the influence of cannabis, the most commonly used illegal drug in the UK.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists’ Chief Executive Simon Best said: “Any new equipment that will allow police to make quick and accurate decisions at the roadside or at the police station on drivers who are impaired by drugs is great. In this way traffic officers can get back out onto the frontline of roads policing, where their impact is highest.
“The introduction of a drugalyser type test needs to be backed up by some measure of impairment. Without this, the test could simply catch those people who have used drugs at some point, but are not necessarily still impaired by them.
“Impairment as the key factor is also essential in tackling drivers who may have used over the counter or prescription drugs, which while legal, can have an equal impact on driving ability as illegal ones.”
This last point made by Mr Best is a valid one and something every company car driver needs to be aware of. Most of us will read the label of any prescription drug before using it, but the longer-lasting effects of some medicine could leave us potentially unfit to be at the wheel.
Clarity is needed from drug companies supplying and selling such medicines and GPs and doctors need to be absolutely clear when prescribing this type of drug to a patient. It’s no good relying on the common sense of most people, doctors must make it abundantly clear to all patients to cater for the lowest common denominator, even if it means stating the obvious to the sensible majority.
This is all the more important and pertinent when the proposed new law set to come into force as part of the Crime, Communications and Court Bill will carry penalties of up to a £5,000 fine, 12 month driving ban and six month jail term. These are tough deterrents for most drivers, though the hardcore of drug users will see them merely as an ‘administrative hurdle’, as comedian Russell Brand pointed out to a parliamentary committee recently.
These are the drivers the police will be targeting more than others. Spotting a potentially drugged-up driver is something traffic officers develop a sixth sense for, helped by tell-tale signs such as changed pupils in the eye and slowed reactions.
The police can already demand a field impairment assessment (FIA) that uses simple physical tests to determine if a driver has possibly taken drugs. An eye chart gives a good indication of a driver’s state of health, while balancing and coordination tests a clear-headed driver would find easy soon spot another who is under the influence of drugs.
In introducing the new drug-driving offence, a scientific review panel has considered the effects of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy on drivers and driving habits. The drugs to be included in the new offence will be decided by this panel.
Road Safety Minister Mike Penning continued: “A driver will be tested first for alcohol. If the driver passes this test but the police officer still thinks the driver is impaired, he will take a saliva swab at the side of the road. This replicates what happens for drink-driving for all of the legislation going all the way through the process.
“We will then have a new piece of equipment at police stations which will do exactly the same job for drugs as an evidential breath tester does for alcohol. This will give the prosecution the evidence to take an offender to court.”
This last statement is vital because in the past many suspected drug-drivers have managed to evade prosecution when the police have not been able to prove what drug the driver was influenced by. In these circumstances, the burden of proof has been deemed insufficient by the courts.
This is immensely frustrating for the police and hugely dangerous for all other drivers. Fortunately, this will no longer be the case thanks to this new piece of legislation.
The effects for those few business drivers who think it is acceptable to take drugs, however soft or recreational they consider them to be, will now be much more likely to be stopped, tested and prosecuted. As well as the hefty penalties available to the court, this small minority of business drivers will also face the likelihood of making themselves unemployed through their stupid and selfish actions.
As business drivers know, there is no point relying on your driving licence for your job if you don’t have a driving licence through it being confiscated.
When it comes down to it, the only thing keeping you on the road are your car’s tyres. They are such a vital component, yet research shows that two-thirds of drivers don’t even know the minimum legal tread depth permitted.…
Citroen has just marked the 45th anniversary of its quirky Mehari fun car with a bespoke display at its chic design centre in the middle of Paris. While the Mehari may be more beach dunes than Champs-Elysées, it points up…
If you ever need an example of how far the car and automotive technology has come in a single generation, just reach for the gear lever in your car. A mere 25 years ago, you would most likely have the choice of five gears…
There are a great many considerations to take into account when looking at your next company car. Some are purely financial and others will be environmental, either because of monetary reasons or because of your conscience.…
Hot hatches have been through a few ups and downs in the time the class has properly existed. From must-have 1980s accessory to untouchable, uninsurable liability in the early 1990s, the sector has been on the rise again…