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Wednesday, February 11, 1998 Published at 18:37 GMT


Government evaluating roadside drug testing

The government has announced pilot projects to try out the practicality of new roadside drug testing equipment.

The Department of Transport stressed that the devices are being tested to see if they are sufficiently robust and practical for use by the roadside.

No record will be made of drivers' names or car registrations involved in the trials and testing will be voluntary, as the police do not yet have the power to enforce co-operation.

Drivers obviously impaired through alcohol or drugs will not be tested with the experimental devices but dealt with under existing powers.

Two devices will be tested, beginning in Mid-March.

One of them, Drugwipe, involves taking a specimen of sweat from the forehead, which will change colour if any drug traces are detected. The other requires a saliva specimen.

Both devices can identify five different drug groups - cannabis, amphetamines including ecstasy, cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines such as valium.

One in five killed in accidents could be drug users

An RAC survey unveiled at the conference found nearly one in five drivers killed in road traffic accidents could be under the influence of illicit drugs.

An spokesman for the motoring organisation said: "There are thousands of people putting themselves and other road users at risk by using cannabis or other drugs which impair their driving and reduce their concentration."

It was found that among those drivers studied, 4% of those killed had taken medicinal drugs, 18% illicit drugs, and 30% had drunk alcohol (22% were over the legal limit).

The survey also indicated 85% of Scottish motorists between the ages of 22 and 25 considered drug-driving to be "common" among their age group.

Labour MP Paul Flynn, Vice-Chairman of the Commons Drugs Misuse group, who has called for the decriminalisation of cannabis, said the conference would be devalued if it becomes part of the government's campaign against the dangers of recreational drugs.

There is "a danger of building a new mythology," he said, adding that the perils of medicinal drugs were still "largely disregarded".

The RAC's figures are based on the first 15 months of a three-year study into the incidence of drugs in road accident victims.

Specimens from 619 fatalities were analysed - 284 drivers, 125 riders (including 21 cyclists), 126 passengers and 84 pedestrians.

The organisation proposed a three-pronged strategy against the problem: establishing the true extent of drug-driving; information campaigns to warn drivers of the dangers; and developing roadside tests.

Automobile Association skeptical

Another motoring organisation, the Automobile Association (AA), was more cautious.

While backing the development of roadside drug-drive tests, the AA wants to see how big the problem is before suggesting that police resources should be allocated.

AA Head of Road Safety, Andrew Howard, said: "Traces of drugs may be found in the body weeks after they have ceased to impair. Roadside tests will only detect if the driver has taken drugs and not if they are impaired. The question of impairment is crucial to road safety."

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SecureTec - Makers of Drugwipe

Dept of Transport - Road and Vehicle Safety

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