Fleet News

Randomly test drivers for drugs and alcohol, says Brake

police officer holding drink driving device

Police in England, Wales and Scotland should be given new powers to set up vehicle checkpoints and randomly test drivers for the presence of drink and drugs.

That’s according to road safety charity Brake, which claims most drivers would support random drug and alcohol testing by the police.

The measure, it says, would help curb the increasing number of drink and drug driving related crashes and deaths on the roads, and comes ahead of the festive season, which usually sees a spike in such incidents.

Recent figures estimate that the total number of deaths in crashes involving a drink driver went up 9% from 2016 to 2017 (from 230 to 250) with someone killed or injured in a drink drive related crash every hour, on average, in December.

Drug driving also appears to be on the increase, with the number of fatal and serious crashes with a contributory factor of the driver/rider impaired by illicit or medicinal drugs increasing by 8% over the same period, up from 447 to 484 incidents. 

Furthermore, the number of drug-driving prosecutions almost doubled last year, with a record 10,215 cases in England and Wales, compared with 5,368 in 2017. Some 60,000 drivers failed roadside breath tests in 2016, according to Ministry of Justice data.

Fleet News reported in the summer how statistics released by some individual forces showed a worrying trend, with cannabis and cocaine now more prevalent than alcohol in roadside tests.

Data released by Suffolk Police, for example, shows that the number of arrests for drug-driving surpassed the number of drink-drive arrests for the first time in the county.

The 672 drug-driving arrests in 2018/19 represented a 20% increase on the previous 12 months, while drink-driving increased by 11.3% to 652 arrests.

Research shows that a visible police presence and the fear of being caught are effective in driving compliance with the law and so the charity believes that the introduction of random testing could have an immediate impact on the number of people driving impaired.

Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said: “We need urgent action by the next Government to tackle this worrying trend and we call for new police powers to set up vehicle checkpoints to carry out random alcohol and drug tests on the roads."

Brake asked 1,000 drivers if they would welcome random drug and alcohol testing by the police, as part of the charity’s road safety research programme with the insurer Direct Line. Seven in 10 drivers surveyed said that they would welcome random drug and alcohol testing by the police with only one in 10 disagreeing.

Harris said: “As our research shows, drivers fully support this move and international evidence suggests that random testing can have a positive impact.

“Drink and drug driving are a blight on our roads and drivers need to expect that if they break the law they will be caught and punished.”

Random breath testing is already in place in many other countries - including in Northern Ireland, where it was introduced in 2016 - and it has been found to be highly effective in reducing drink-drive casualties without over-burdening the police and criminal justice system.

However, at present the law in England, Wales and Scotland only permits the police to breathalyse someone, or carry out a roadside drug screening test if they think they’ve been drinking or on drugs, if they have committed a traffic offence, or if they have been involved in a traffic collision.

As well as supporting the introduction of random testing, Brake is advising everyone to be aware of the dangerous impact of drink and drugs on driving this festive season, and to adopt a zero tolerance approach to driving impaired.

Brake also advises that people attending Christmas parties plan ahead for their journey home, speak out if they see someone planning to drive impaired and think about the possible impact of alcohol the morning after a night of drinking.

Harris concluded: “It’s vital that drivers, and passengers, are aware of the dangers of drink and drug driving, especially ahead of the busy festive season.

“Whilst we want people to go out and enjoy themselves, drivers must know that getting behind the wheel after drinking can have potentially devastating consequences. Simply put, if you are drinking, don’t drive, and if you must drive, don’t drink.”

Survey results

I would welcome random alcohol and drug testing by the police

Total

Strongly agree

37%

Agree

35%

Neither agree nor disagree

16%

Disagree

7%

Strongly disagree

4%

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Comments

  • Brian Horsely - 10/12/2019 11:09

    The issue with drug driving laws is they are not based on punishing a driver for being impaired. I'm all in favour of taking drivers off the road who have taken drugs that affect their performance behind the wheel, but punishing hundreds of drivers for smoking cannabis, when the legal limit is not based on impairment but on the fact cannabis is illegal, is wrong. Evidence used by the government’s expert panel on drug driving has indicated that actual impairment after ingesting THC subsides after two and a half hours, but the roadside test is likely to catch out cannabis smokers up to 24 hours after use, well after the effects have worn off. In fact, a study showed that a single ‘puff’ on a cannabis joint produced an average immediate blood THC Concentration of 18 micrograms (9 times the legal limit). When the Government considered setting prescribed limits, they instructed a panel of experts to suggest an appropriate limit. The Government stressed its intention for the new limit to be ‘zero tolerance’. After many months of research, the experts advised a limit of 5 microgrammes, which was over twice the limit finally imposed by the government. Our drug driving laws should be taking impaired drivers of the road, not unimpaired drivers who happen to smoke cannabis.

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  • Laird Assessors - 10/12/2019 12:04

    How about randomly testing drivers for skills first!

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  • Andrew Farmer - 10/12/2019 16:55

    I come from Australia where this is common practice. It has reduced road fatalities by being a deterrent. This shouldn't be up for discussion it should just be put in place.

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