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Sunday, 30 January, 2000, 16:22 GMT
Should there be drugs tests for drivers?
Do you think drivers should face road-side drugs tests as well as being breathalysed for alcohol?
The UK Government is to conduct research into the effects of driving under the influence of drugs, after reports suggest a dramatic rise in accident victims who had taken illegal substances.
The report also warned that some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can affect your performance behind the wheel. So do you think a new test would make the roads safer? Send us your views.
I think we have to be careful where the line is drawn. Is it drawn at illegal drugs, cold cures or what? You could find yourself having to check your biorhythms before driving next.
If the implementation of such a scheme can save just one life than surely it is worthwhile. The extension of this power to the Police is unlikely to concern any motorist subjected to the test except those with something to hide. I am sure a similar debate ensued regarding the introduction of the breathalyser in the 60's and few people would doubt the dramatic reduction of loss of life this has had.
Jonathan Drake, UK
Instead of wasting everybody's time with drug testing, why isn't the money spent on road cameras that can monitor driving behaviour. That way the streets can be cleared of all dangerous drivers, whether they be drugged, drunk, incompetent or simply too uncoordinated to use the roads in the first place. A car is a piece of mechanical machinery that should be reserved for individuals who can prove a fairly high level of control over it. I support this idea because even after we've rid the roads of influenced drivers, there will still be a huge number of individuals that are licensed to be driving yet are more of a danger to themselves and others than the average cannabis use.
Work out those factors which impair driving ability, and test for them, e.g. poor night vision, medicines, drugs, alcohol, mobile phone use, etc. But use clear scientific evidence that it is detrimental. And make it clear that the evidence from the tests can only be used for driving offences.
The general consensus seems to be that alcohol impairs driving ability, is relatively easy to test for and as a result the police can and do check for it. There are many other factors that impair driving ability including eyesight and reaction times (which are very easy to check out on a regular basis), as well as other drugs. Over the counter "flu remedies" and the like which can give positive results should be more clearly labelled and the dispenser made to tell the purchaser so that there is no possibility of "I didn't know". Illegal substances can be picked up using non-invasive procedures via urine and sweat - this should be used to justify arresting the driver on suspicion and taking them back to the station where a more quantifiable test (e.g. via blood) can be performed. The technology exists to do this, all that need to be set are the impairment limits.
I have continually observed in cannabis users that their ability to reason is totally impaired. I do not think they are fully aware of the damage they do when they take the stuff. Testing should be mandatory but more importantly still, there should be a total crackdown on this and all other illicit drugs.
If pot is legalised, how long will it be before it's cool simply to take a gun and shoot ourselves? Or murder someone? We seem to be moving precariously in that direction. After all, the lawmakers of tomorrow would be the "crack heads" of today. That's a scary thought!
Simon Cameron, UK
Testing for alcohol works because alcohol is not in itself illegal, so a sensible limit for use whilst driving can be set. What kind of limit could they set for dope, coke or e? After all, how can it be ok to drive with small quantities of this stuff in your blood, when you can't legally take them in the first place.
Alternatively, how can it be ok to nick someone for driving a car with dope in their blood from two days prior? I think the answer is to legalise the drugs. Then, not only can you can set limits on when and where they can be used, you can tax them and control them properly. Just like fags and booze.
Extend it to include a drug/alcohol test on "all" people involved in traffic accidents - including cyclists and pedestrians. I seem to remember reading some statistics that indicated that in about 50% of car-pedestrian incidents, the pedestrian was under the influence of alcohol; I for one don't want to pick up the blame because some dopehead walks into the street in front of my car.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
Interesting to read that the government is going to fund more research into drugs and driving. Why not check out the Canadian research completed last year that as a whole drivers who drive whilst having used cannabis actually have less chance of crashing than the norm!
Simon Atkinson, UK
Drug use is a cancer. People who drive their cars after taking drugs cannot even use the excuse of social deprivation as they have a car. Therefore for these lawbreakers the tests would be ideal - and it should lead not just to fines and temporary fines but confiscation of the vehicle if owned by the offender and stiffer penalties overall. It's bad enough watching sober, unaffected drivers on the road let alone idiots high on this or that.
The way the police in the USA get more drunk drivers off the roads are by conducting roadside checks, which involves several officers blocking problem area roads. If alcohol is present or suspected, then the police have the driver take the sobriety test or breathalyser. These are also conducted on major holiday weekends. Many impaired and unlicensed drivers are taken off the road in this manner. Any other way seems impractical and can also be unsafe for the driver as well as the police officers.
As a life-long cyclist - I don't own a car, and never have - I would say that the missing piece here is an IQ test. Get the stupid drivers off the road and I'll happily take my chances with someone who's just smoked a joint.
Jon Livesey, USA
Yes of course we should have roadside drug testing. But have the police the time, resources, inclination or money to carry out such an important task on top of everything else they are expected to do. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, must make funds and resources available to make our roads a safer environment.
Richard Popay, England
I agree that drug testing would be a good idea for drivers, however I don't think it's going to be that simple. As far as I'm aware, there are no current tests, which can differentiate between someone who is under the influence of a drug, and someone who, simply has the drug in their system. For example, cannabis can be detected in your system for months after smoking a single cannabis cigarette. This would mean that unless a suitable test was developed, many people who don't drive under the influence of drugs would be at risk of being prosecuted for it.
The report also warned that some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can affect your performance behind the wheel. Why have people concentrated on illegal drugs? What item do we consume that is not a drug? Tea and coffee contain drugs that can impair judgement. Prozac and similar can also do this. If the law is to be changed then it must logically include legal as well as illegal substances. And why stop with drugs? What about regular eyesight or reaction tests? This could well get out of hand.
Stephen Tilley, England, UK
Whilst it is acknowledged that drugs will affect driving performance, the concept of a roadside blood test is questionable. Drawing blood is a medical procedure and should be administered by a qualified member of the medical profession. There are serious health issues related to such invasive procedures, and the risk of transmission of disease is much higher than that associated with a standard breathalyser. What may be more effective is the training of officers to be able to spot the physical signs of drug-taking to allow them to determine which individuals require further testing under medical supervision.
A Donlin, UK
Driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol should not be classed as separate offences. Different drugs have different effects on people. What should happen is that people driving dangerously should be pulled over and charged with that. If drugs are an effect then that should be sited and an addition added to the penalty.
Richard Haynes, UK
I am told by those in the know that drugs such as marijuana can remain in the blood for up to SIX weeks. The effects of smoking it are gone within hours so a driver with this substance in their blood will be perfectly capable of driving. Are we to penalise someone for having smoked this drug many weeks before driving? Is the idea of roadside tests merely a way of finding out who is smoking drugs so that they can be prosecuted for having done so?
Julie Newbold, UK
This is definitely not a good idea. Testing for alcohol is good enough as its an obvious factor in a drivers performance. With drug testing, drivers will end up being penalised for taking too many flu or headache tablets.
Maurice, London, UK
Drug testing should be allowed but only for drugs that do actually impair performance. I bring attention to one of your own articles. 'A study indicates that those who smoke a moderate amount of marijuana are only barely more dangerous than completely sober drivers.'
David Meagor, UK
No doubt about it. I suspect there are hundreds, possibly thousands of people driving in cars at this very moment who are under the influence of drugs. Punishment should be based on lack of ability to drive safely, regardless of the substance in question.
Edward Haigh, UK
If a person is convicted of drug-driving (including alcohol), they should be banned from driving for life. No exceptions. Would we allow someone who has a gun licence to abuse that licence in the same way? No.
Of course there should be drug testing for drivers: they are a danger to themselves and other road users.
PJ Hughes, UK
Any substance that impairs your ability to function behind the wheel should be tested for by law enforcement. The real problem is how to test. Urine analysis is not very reliable, cannabis can remain in the system for 3-5 months. Poppy seed bagles will produce positive results for opiates. Even some form of spices used for tacos will produce positive results. Blood tests can be equally unreliable. The constables judgement is the only "reliable" means to take offenders temporarily off the road.
A roadside drugs test kit can only hope to indicate that drugs are present in a drivers system. This in itself would not be an offence. Such a test could only be of use in supporting police officers existing suspicions. The real issue (and in the UK the current offence) is that the driver is impaired through the use of drink or drugs. The key is to train police officers more effectively to recognise the physical signs and to introduce some form of roadside impairment test together with the drug test
Graham, United Kingdom
So long as the test can be quantitative, and covers ALL drugs which are PROVEN to impair driving including prescription, over the counter, homeopathic as well as controlled substances, then it would seem like a good idea.
In the US, traffic police routinely try to discern from driver behaviour and physiological characteristics whether the driver is under the influence of a range of illicit substances, not only alcohol. With good training, reasonable suspicion can justify detention and subsequent blood or urine tests conducted by qualified medical practitioners. Developing an easily administered roadside test for, say, cannabis or opiates, however, might prove somewhat impractical, as a breathalyser, as far as I am aware, cannot be used to screen for such substances.
Mike Trainor, USA
Is there really a debate on this? Any form of drug use that actually, demonstrably, affects performance should be penalised. Quite where the debate is on the issue, I can't imagine!
Yes, of course there should be roadside testing for illegal drugs, as there is overwhelming evidence they present at least as much danger as excess alcohol. But it is essential that the research establishes meaningful measures of impairment, rather than just ways of identifying any presence of drug residues. Traces of cannabis, for example, can remain for up to two weeks, by which time any impact on driving must be long gone. As we appear to be inching towards a more tolerant legal climate for drugs, particularly cannabis, we must be careful not to use road traffic law as a back-door form of drug prohibition.
Drug testing would be very difficult to introduce. It's not a blow in the bag exercise at the side of the road - like we have with alcohol. You'd need to take the driver to a place where a test could be administrated. Against what criteria would the Police stop and test someone. Most people who are breath-tested pass the test.
In principle I agree that to test for drugs driving is acceptable, however the big problem is how to test. For example if someone has been smoking cannabis a week ago, then it is still present in the blood, although no longer active. Are drivers to be persecuted then, even though they are no longer under the influence? This may also be the case with many other narcotics. I can't see how this can be implemented successfully and fairly.
As a transport student, I saw photographic evidence of an accident in which a motorcyclist on speed had travelled at over 150 mph on the wrong side of a dual carriageway and collided with an over the limit driver (himself exceeding 100 mph). The make of car would have been totally unidentifiable were it not for the BMW badge. Needless to say, it was a fatal accident, though thankfully without any children involved. We must have drugs tests to stop this kind of thing. There are still too many deaths on our roads from substance abuse of one type or another. In addition penalties should be increased to further dissuade would be drivers from such an action.
Alex Banks (International transport student, Cardiff University) Wales
Of course. Alcohol is a type of drug, and drivers get tested for that. Why should users of other drugs get away with it?
Anna Patullo, UK
Yes, and the drugs tested for should include tranquillisers. Tests have shown that tranq. users have reaction times similar to those of alcohol users at the drink-drive limit.
Martin Nicholas, England
No routine test or random test will make the roads or drivers any safer, because the real safety is located between the wheel and seat. A test when there is just reason for doing it like observed irrational driving is acceptable and possibly helpful.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Police in the bushes or police stopping the traffic for major screenings causes much more danger to the traffic than possible minor liberties as it comes to alcohol, medicine use or even mild drugs.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland
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