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Monday, 23 March, 1998, 13:46 GMT
Police begin drug testing drivers
cop car
One in five motorists killed in accidents are under the influence of illicit drugs
Motorists in parts of Britain face roadside drugs tests as police start trials of new detection devices.

Drivers' tests
Drivers will be asked if a swab can be wiped across their foreheads to test for drugs
Four police forces - Lancashire, Cleveland, Sussex and Strathclyde - are beginning trials of a new swab which, when wiped across the sweat on a driver's forehead, can detect the presence of drugs.

The move follows figures released in the UK last month which show that one in five drivers killed in accidents is under the influence of illicit drugs.

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

Those taking part will do it voluntarily and no-one will be prosecuted as a result of a postive test.

Later trials will involve the use of a saliva testing device made by a British firm.

If the indicator turns pink it indicates traces of drugs are in the driver's bloodstream
Both systems 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.

Senior police officers have admitted that there are difficulties with detecting drugs like cannabis, which is thought to have an effect on driving for up to 14 hours but which can remain in the bloodstream for a month.

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

Jim Hammond
Supt Jim Hammond thinks it may be two to three years before there is an effective roadside test
Superintendent Jim Hammond of Sussex police said: "This is the start of a process that will take us two to three years to find an effective suitable roadside screening test."

The Home Office says it wants to discover whether the tests are practical and acceptable to the public.

A total of 5,000 motorists will be stopped over the next three weeks and asked to take part in the trials.

Drug driving factfile

  • About 18% of drivers killed in road traffic accidents are found to have some trace of illegal drugs in their bloodstream, compared to 30% who had been drinking alcohol and 22% who were over the drink-drive limit.

  • The figures - from a three-year study carried out by the Department of Transport - show a fourfold increase in drug-driving over the last 10 years, while drink-driving has declined rapidly in the same period.

  • The full extent of drug-driving is hidden by present testing practices, as only one in 500 breathalyser checks for alcohol leads to a blood or urine test that could reveal the presence of illicit substances.

  • Of the 780,000 breath tests taken in 1996, just 1,204 led to drug traces being found.

  • It is estimated that about 88,000 drivers a year escape prosecution for drug-driving because of the absence of roadside testing.

  • Experts believe that at least 4,500 deaths and 135,000 serious injuries are caused in Europe each year by drug-driving.

  • Cannabis slows drivers' reaction times and affects their concentration, but research in Holland has found that 'stoned' motorists tend to drive more cautiously, unlike many drink-drivers.

  • Heroin greatly reduces reaction times and causes drowsiness and blackouts, while amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine severely affect judgment, accuracy and ability to concentrate.

  • A recent survey found that 85% of 22- to 25-year-olds consider drug-driving to be "common" among their age-group.

  • Two testing kits will be used in the trial - a German-made, hand-held device called Drugwipe containing a strip of fleece which is wiped across the forehead, and a British-produced swab test in which a lollipop-shaped cotton bud is put in the mouth to pick up a sample of saliva.

See also:

09 Feb 98 | Politics
Random breath-testing moves closer
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