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Police to test drivers for drug abuse

London Sunday Times | October 16, 2005
By Dipesh Gadher

POLICE are to carry out trials of a roadside detector to combat the growing menace of drug-driving. Government scientists are developing a portable device capable of screening motorists for traces of all illegal substances.

Trials of the electronic “drugalyser” could take place before next summer, paving the way for one of the biggest clampdowns on dangerous driving since alcohol breath tests were introduced in the 1960s.

More than one in seven drivers stopped during a recent road safety campaign later tested positive for drugs — twice as many as those who were found to be drinking.

Research from the RAC Foundation has also found that young people are now twice as likely to have been driven by someone high on drugs than someone over the drink-drive limit.

At the moment police can pull over motorists on suspicion of drug-driving, but can arrest them only if they fail relatively imprecise physical and mental impairment tests.

The new test, which is being overseen by the Home Office’s scientific development branch, will speed up detection.

A motorist suspected of driving under the influence of drugs will have to submit a saliva sample that will be placed on a chemical slide and “read” by a laser. The device will detect any drugs within seconds and display the results on a screen.

If banned substances are found, the motorist will be required to go to a police station and take a blood test.

Ministers are unlikely to set a drug-drive “limit” because they believe there is no such thing as a safe level. Instead, the drugalyser will analyse the saliva against a “cut-off” level for the drugs involved.

Specifications for the drugalyser are expected to be agreed early next year. The device will be tested for six months, including a likely field trial involving at least one police force.

The Home Office said: “We currently expect that suitable products will be on the market by the end of 2006.”

One company, Oxfordshire-based Cozart Bioscience, has developed a roadside drug test which is now being used by police in Italy.

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Drug-driving is rapidly becoming a bigger problem than drink-driving, particularly among young motorists who don’t see it as a stigma.”

The Transport Research Laboratory has found that 18% of drivers who died on the roads between 1996 and 2000 had illegal drugs in their system, compared with 3% in 1985-88.

Drug-drivers face the same penalties as those caught over the drink-drive limit.


Last modified October 17, 2005




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