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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Tory plan to outlaw drug-driving
Roadside tests
Police want a new device to test for drug use
Driving under the influence of drugs could be made a criminal offence, under a bill sponsored by a Tory MP.

Shadow Home Office minister Nick Hawkins plans to introduce a bid to get drug-driving recognised as an offence in its own right - separate from drink-driving - during the next session of Parliament.


When people drive under the influence of drugs they are not simply endangering themselves

Nick Hawkins

His move follows the discovery, by the RAC Foundation, that more than half the drivers killed in road accidents in Durham Police force area this year had illegal drugs in their system.

In July, Mr Hawkins urged ministers to conduct a "proper investigation" on the effect of drug-taking on road accidents.

Government responsibility

He accused the Home Office of continuing to "bury their heads in the sand" on the matter, stressing: "There is a potentially huge problem which is being ignored.

"When people drive under the influence of drugs they are not simply endangering themselves, but they are putting other road users' and pedestrians' lives in danger.

Nick Hawkins
Mr Hawkins wants a proper investigation into the effects of drug-driving
"It is the government's responsibility to do all it can to protect law-abiding citizens, but on the issue it is failing to do so."

Mr Hawkins hopes his bill will amend Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act, with drug-driving becoming a separate offence.

Unfit to drive

Police officers would then have to identify whether a driver was under the influence of drugs, rather than alcohol.

Current legislation states that "a person who, when driving a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs is guilty of an offence".

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the government intended to force drivers to take tests for drugs, as they do for alcohol, under its road safety strategy.


We're aware of the need to improve the way drug-driving is identified

Home Office spokeswoman
Police officers currently do not have the necessary powers to conduct drug tests at the roadside.

"Driving while impaired by drugs is a serious criminal offence, which we recognised in the Government's recent road safety strategy," said the spokeswoman.

"In 2000 there were around 1,800 convictions for drug-driving in England and Wales.

"We're aware of the need to improve the way drug-driving is identified so that existing laws can be made more effective".

Some 88,000 drivers a year are believed to have escaped prosecution for drug-driving because there is no roadside test.

'Shocking figures'

Experts believe that about 4,500 deaths and 135,000 serious injuries are caused by drug-driving across Europe each year.

Samples from Durham Police suggested that in 50% of fatalities the victims had traces of either cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy or another prescription drug.

The RAC says the figures are "shocking" and that they show many drivers are ignorant of the dangers of drug driving.

Earlier this year the British Medical Association called on the government to co-ordinate scientific research to establish effective drug testing devices as soon as possible.

It says drugs - both illegal and legal - can affect the ability to drive safely.

See also:

02 Sep 02 | Politics
02 Aug 02 | UK
12 Mar 02 | Health
03 Aug 00 | UK
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