Police must wait at least another two years before they get roadside drug testing kits.
Currently the police have to give suspected drug-drivers impairment tests, which means making them perform tasks such as walking in a straight line.
The new testing kits will allow the police to test for drugs – both prescription and illegal – in much the same way as a breathalyser tests for alcohol.
The Home Office confirmed to Fleet News that the kits are close to the final stages of development.
However, a spokesman said the development of the testing kits had proved to have been extremely complex and involved Home Office scientists enlisting the assistance of outside experts.
“It will be a couple of years before our multi-drug device is available and type-approved for use as the scientific development work behind it is highly complex,” he said.
“The Forensic Science Service has been working on the production of a specification with the Home Office scientific development board and outside experts.”
The difficulties arise not only from the number of drugs that need to be detected – everything from a prescription sleeping pill to MDMA in ecstasy – but also from devising a kit that can be used at the roadside that is non-invasive, which rules out blood or urine testers.
It is believed that the kits will require a saliva sample.
Because there is no safe level of illegal drugs allowed by law in a driver’s system, it is expected that should a roadside ‘drugalyser’ test prove positive for an illicit drug, a driver will then still be subject to an impairment test.
There is also a question over safe levels of prescription drugs.
It has been found that while one in 10 young motorists admit to driving after taking illegal drugs, the majority of those convicted for drug-driving are actually middle aged and using prescription drugs.
A review of convictions has shown that for every one driver convicted of driving while under the influence of illegal drugs, there are four drivers convicted for driving while unfit due to being under the influence of prescription drugs.
The news that such kits are being developed means fleet managers who have not implemented a drink/drug strategy to identify and manage drivers who may be impaired through alcohol or drugs misuse, should do so.