The Government is being urged to review the way that drug driving is tackled in a new report, published by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS).
The report, 'Drink driving – the tip of an iceberg?', shows that enforcement of the drug driving laws varies dramatically across the country.
Forces with better procedures, contract and training are convicting ten times more drug drivers than others, when controlling for population size.
Meanwhile, high costs and delays with blood testing mean that some police forces are rationing what should be a routine roadside test.
Reoffending is also a major concern with 44% of recorded offences being committed by reoffenders.
One person committed the offence ‘driving or attempting to drive with drug level above the specified limit’ when they had 18 previous drink and drug driving offences.
PACTS says that a new drug drive rehabilitation course and high risk offender scheme should be introduced, modelled broadly on the existing drink drive programmes, but with better screening for drug and mental health problems and with clear pathways to treatment.
David Davies, executive director of PACTS, said: “This report by PACTS shows we still lack answers to vital questions on drug driving.
"The number of offences and deaths detected so far may be only the tip of the iceberg.”
Davies says that the police have made “big strides” in catching drug drivers over the past five years, but it remains a “postcode lottery”.
“While some forces are testing hundreds of drivers, others are rationing patrols to a single test,” he continued. “These disparities cannot be explained by differences in drug driving and the danger it creates. A more consistent approach is badly needed, with all forces testing for drug driving where it is suspected.”
In total, 12,391 people were convicted of a drug driving offence in 2019, but PACTS says that these numbers are rising fast.
Drug drivers are much more likely to have a criminal history than the general public. An analysis in 2017 of those convicted of drug driving found 67% of those convicted of drug driving offences had one or more previous conviction. Typically, these offences were for theft/burglary or drug-related.
Drivers who combine alcohol and drugs are likely to be significantly more impaired than those who consume only one. However, those who combine drink and drugs do not receive a longer sentence.
PACTS is recommending introducing a new combined drink and drug driving, with a lower drink drive limit, that recognises the risk drivers who combine alcohol and drugs pose.
The PACTS report recommends that the Department for Transport (DfT), in collaboration with the Department for Health, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, should undertake a review of policy on drug driving
The Government, it says, should also introduce a new combined drink and drug driving offence, with a lower blood alcohol limit.
Meanwhile, levels of drug driving enforcement should be increased in the UK, particularly in those police force areas where levels are low, and the Home Office should review the blood testing process and seek ways to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of laboratory testing by increasing capacity, improved procurement, or other means.
It should also consider the possibility of reclaiming costs from those who are found guilty.
Furthermore, PACTS wants a new drug drive rehabilitation course, based on the current drink drive course, to be introduced in the UK, while the DfT should publish robust offence and casualty data on drug driving using coroner data and other sources, as they do for drink driving.
Davies said: “Driving under the influence of a combination of drink and drugs, even at relatively low levels, is particularly dangerous. This is not widely understood and there is no specific offence for drink and drug driving. This needs to change.
“There are significant problems with the speed and capacity of laboratories to process blood tests for drugs. This is hampering enforcement of driving offences and drivers are escaping prosecution. We need a Covid-style response to improving lab capacity.”