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Monday, 23 March, 1998, 10:42 GMT
Police start pilot drug tests
One in five drivers killed in car crashes had drugs in the bloodstream
Four British police forces are preparing to start testing drivers for drugs in a voluntary trial scheme.

No prosecutions for driving under the influence of drugs will arise from the roadside pilot schemes, which begin on Monday.

Motorists will be asked to consent to a simple test - an impregnated swab rubbed across their forehead which shows whether they have taken drugs.

Recent figures released in the UK show one in five drivers who die in road crashes has taken drugs.

Cannabis remains in the bloodstream for a month
The trials in Strathclyde, Lancashire, Cleveland and Sussex will stop 5,000 motorists over a three-week period.

Later tests will try a saliva-based system. The aim is to determine which is the most reliable means of checking whether a driver is on drugs.

The forehead test, called Drugwipe, is made in Germany while the saliva check is manufactured by a British firm.

Both claim to detect cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines and heroin, with an accuracy rate of about 95%.

But other problems remain before drug testing can become as common as the breathalyser.

Police do not yet have the power to force people to give a sample for a roadside drug test.

Prescription drugs also affect drivers
Also, some drugs, such as cannabis, stay in the bloodstream for up to a month after consumption and a test would need to take this into account.

Prescription drugs could also pose a problem and people might need more advice on when it was safe to drive on medication.

The Roads Minister, Baroness Hayman, said the UK Government would introduce legislation if the equipment worked and it believed it could reduce the problem.

Figures from a three-year study by the Department of Transport show driving under the influence of drugs increased fourfold in the past 10 years. Drink-driving fell in the same period.

A recent survey also found 85% of 22- to 25-year-olds said drug-driving was "common" among their peers.

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