Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 10:58 UK

Drug-driving campaign is launched

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Drug driving campaign launched

An advertising campaign warning of the risks of driving after taking drugs is being launched in Britain.

A TV ad will warn motorists that police can spot signs someone is under the influence of drugs if they are stopped.

The Department for Transport says that one in 10 young male drivers admits drug driving and education is crucial.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said "Whatever one's views on drug taking" it is imperative that drug-driving is made totally socially unacceptable.

Road safety charity Brake has welcomed the £2.3m campaign but says it is more important for ministers to approve a breathalyser-style drug-testing device.

Anyone caught drug-driving faces up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.

The campaign is led by a television advert which warns drivers that police can spot involuntary signs of drug use such as severely dilated or constricted pupils.

It shows a car-full of young people with their eyes enlarged, adding: "Your eyes will give you away."

Risk-taking

The Department for Transport (DfT) estimates that one in five drivers or riders killed in road accidents may have an impairing drug - legal or illegal - in their system.

While education is fantastic, what we really need is the enforcement to back it up
Cathy Keeler, Brake

Young men aged between 17 and 29 are thought to be most likely to drive while on illegal drugs and Brake says they can be affected in a range of different ways:

• Cannabis - distorts a driver's perception of time and distance so other vehicles seem closer than they really are. Users also struggle to do two things at once, like changing gear and steering

• Cocaine - causes a feeling of over-confidence, leading to aggressive, risky driving at high speeds

• Amphetamines, such as speed - impair co-ordination and make drivers less likely to react to potential hazards

• Ecstasy - causes blurred vision and poor judgement, and may also lead to extreme anxiety and paranoia

Police currently have no equivalent to an alcohol breathalyser to test for drugs and instead use a Field Impairment Test or FIT.

This can include the Romberg Test in which a driver is asked to close their eyes and estimate when 30 seconds have elapsed. Drugs impair the body's internal clock so drug users tend to be wildly inaccurate.

Other tests include standing on one leg, touching your nose with the tip of your finger and walking heel-to-toe while counting the steps out loud.

Testing device

If officers see signs of drug abuse they can take a suspect to a police station to perform a blood test to confirm it.

A DfT spokeswoman said that in the past drug-driving campaigns had been run by individual forces or aimed at particular groups such as those attending music festivals.

"We hope this will create a national debate around drug-driving because it's something that maybe people aren't very aware of," she said.

She also said the Home Office had been investigating roadside testing devices, but finding one sophisticated enough was difficult.

DRUG DRIVING DANGERS
Cannabis - distorts perception of time and space
Cocaine - causes overconfidence and risk-taking
Amphetamines - impairs coordination and hazard-spotting
Ecstasy - leads to blurred vision and poor judgement

"It's not as simple as setting a single level as we do with alcohol," she said.

"There would need to be a specification that police and other law enforcement agencies are happy with and as yet we don't think such a device is available."

The Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, said it was vital to change attitudes.

He told the BBC: "Of course it's socially acceptable to drink, but it's not socially acceptable to be a drink driver, and we need to do the same with drugs.

"Whatever one's views on drug taking, we've got to make it absolutely socially unacceptable to drive while under the influence of drugs, because it can kill."

HAVE YOUR SAY
We could have more traffic officers on the road who could enforce traffic law using their judgement and experience
Adrian Mugridge, Chester

Cathy Keeler, deputy chief executive of Brake, welcomed the campaign, saying that drug-driving was "potentially a huge problem on our roads".

"But while education is fantastic, what we really need is the enforcement to back it up," she said.

"The government has been dragging its heels on approving a roadside testing device even though police in countries like Germany are already using saliva wipes to catch lots of drug drivers.

"There are already some devices out there that can identify some of the most common drugs people take and there's really no reason for the government to wait for some perfect device to detect all of them."

The television advert focuses on illegal drugs, but other strands of the campaign in print and online will also address the issues surrounding legal prescription drugs.



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