As Europe’s greatest consumers of illegal drugs we managed only 3,000 drug-driving prosecutions this year compared to roughly 100,000 drink-drive prosecutions.
And yet other European countries appear to be getting many more prosecutions. In Germany, for example, police officers conducted over a million alcohol screens. Following these screens, many officers had further suspicions about those they had stopped, and so performed rudimentary physical and mental tests on them. After these tests, if the officer still believed the suspect had used illegal drugs, the suspicion was confirmed using a further drugs roadside screen. Germany used over 150,000 of these screens and of those, some 35,000 suspects had their licence suspended.
Surely this significant variance should trigger alarm bells in the UK?
Ten years ago we led the world with the largest-ever roadside drug-driver screening trial, but it then took five years before a law was passed allowing police to use a “suitable” screening device at the roadside. However, five years on from this and we still have no approval specification to get a device out to our front line. Even then, the current impairment law requires an assessment by a doctor, which adds, on average, several hours’ delay while the officer waits for a doctor to arrive and take blood from the suspect. By this time, most drug effects will have worn off.
On the positive side, the recent Department for Transport consultation document (published last November) discussed options like zero tolerance and a ‘Think!’ education campaign. Education is an absolute must, but surely must be used alongside a useable law and credible deterrent, such as a roadside screener, and a punishment that costs the offender in time, money and liberty. For example, a short ban, paying for a re-education course and sitting a re-test. Then the offenders benefit personally and we in society benefit with safer roads.
We could have a new zero tolerance law run alongside the current impairment laws. Australia has run this system over the last five years to great effect. The lead state, Victoria, is down to half the prosecutions of the last state to implement anti-drug-driving, Western Australia.
Are we Brits really so different to the Australians, Swiss or Germans? Zero tolerance and roadside screening are helping to save lives around the world, so let’s try to help save lives here.
Ean D. Lewin, Managing Director, D.tec Internnational Ltd