Stricter Measures To Target Drug Drivers In Britain

New powers to help tackle the dangers of drug driving can be used from today, announced David Jamieson, Road Safety Minister.

A new Code of Practice means that drivers will be compelled to undertake roadside impairment tests if the police suspect they are driving under the influence of drugs.

The Code details the way trained police officers must conduct the tests to help judge whether someone may be unfit to drive. Refusal to participate is an offense like failure to provide a breath test [i.e., where alcohol is suspected – DSA].

David Jamieson said: “Drug driving puts lives in danger and is as irresponsible as drunk driving. Drivers should never get behind the wheel when they’re unfit to drive. Law-abiding motorists are fed up with anti-social drivers who risk their lives and those of other innocent road users.

“The Code of Practice issued today will help further to drive down the number of casualties on our roads. In addition, testing will mean that a trained officer will have more information on which to judge whether a driver may be impaired and more evidence when deciding whether to make an arrest.”

The Code of Practice details the tests to be undertaken, how they should be administered, the kind of observations that may be made, and the inferences that may be drawn. It also deals with the training for officers and their authorization by Chief Constables. More than half of the police forces in England, Scotland, and Wales already have officers trained in impairment testing, with others set to follow.

The tests are a range of tasks, including a pupillary examination, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand. In addition, other training helps officers to recognize the outward signs of drug recognition.

Additional Notes

1. The Code of Practice can be viewed via a link from THINK! Website or on the Home office website

2. The road traffic offense is to be unfit to drive through drink or drugs (section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988). Police must therefore demonstrate that a suspect may be unacceptable to go and maybe through drugs or drink before making an arrest. It is for a court to consider the evidence and to decide whether an offense has been committed. Impairment assessment will always be essential to enforcing the law, whether drugs or booze are suspected.

3. The ability to test for the presence of drugs at the roadside, which requires type-approved equipment, will only confirm the presence of a drug. Such tests will not replace the need to prove impairment to drive. The type-approval specification for such equipment is expected to be ready in 2005.

4. Drugs include prescription drugs or medicines, over-the-counter preparations, and illegal drugs.

5. The penalties for driving while unfit through drugs are the same as for drink-driving. A maximum fine of £5,000, obligatory disqualification for 12 months (with 3-11 penalty points if the driver, exceptionally, is not disqualified outright), and the possibility of up to 6 months in prison.

Source: Department for Transport (DFT/SE/12/12)

[Related article: New Drug Drive Powers are Welcomed by the RAC Foundation]

DSA Comments: These measures will undoubtedly be welcome among road safety practitioners and police officers in Britain, for they will undeniably save lives.
Interestingly, this development is the first to introduce the equivalent of what American law calls ‘field sobriety testing’ to Britain because dealing with a driver who has been drinking alcohol has always been a very straightforward matter in the UK and will remain so, despite the mentions of ‘drink’ in the above press release.
Since the 1960s, anyone suspected of drinking and driving in Britain must provide a specimen of breath at the roadside. The test result was not prima facie evidence in itself. Still, if the reading was positive, the person was arrested and taken to a police station, where further evidential testing was carried out.
If the second-phase tests showed a blood-alcohol concentration exceeding the equivalent of 0.08 percent, the driver would go to court. Escaping conviction has always been challenging, and — having been convicted — running the mandatory disqualification from driving (one-year minimum) has always been extremely rare. However, longer driving bans are frequently applied in the cases of high BACs and repeat offenders. And both the risk of being caught and the penalties involved for ‘driving while disqualified’ are severe.
Refusal to provide required test specimens inevitably incurs heavy fines and mandatory disqualification.
Due to type-approval of the latest equipment, British police forces will progressively turn to evidential roadside breath testing where alcohol is suspected. In these cases, it will continue to be the case that no equivalent of ‘field sobriety testing’ will be needed — an over-the-limit BAC is all that is required secure conviction.
And suppose a driver is displaying signs of impairment but does not fail a roadside breath test for alcohol (whether evidential or otherwise). In that case, that driver may be tested for drug impairment using the abovementioned method.