Latest drink and drug driving figures reveal massive testing gap

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Concateno calls for national pilot and routine testing for drug driving as almost
quarter of a million more drivers tested for alcohol than drugs

Concateno, Europe’s most experienced drug and alcohol testing company, has welcomed latest police drink and drug driving figures as indication that active roadside testing practices continue to serve as a deterrent to offenders.

However the statistics highlight a huge difference between the numbers of tests conducted for drug driving compared to those for drink driving. They also show that a proportionately higher number of drivers tested positive for drugs than for alcohol.

According to the figures from the annual Christmas drink and drug driving campaign (December 1 2009-January 1 2010) announced by the national Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO):

• Police conducted 223,423 breathalyser tests for alcohol – three percent were positive, failed or refused
• In comparison, just 489 Field Impairment Tests were carried out for drug driving – with 18 percent arrested

Both drink and drug driving testing increased on the previous year:

• The total number of drink driving tests was up by almost 22 percent
• This compares to less than a two percent increase in drug driving tests

“These figures are revealing. There was a substantial gap between the numbers of tests done for drug driving compared to drink driving, and yet proportionally more people on our roads were found to be positive for drugs,” commented Iain Forcer, Concateno’s spokesman on drug driving.

“Based on findings from the latest British Crime Survey, around one in 20 people had used illicit drugs in the last month. With potentially more than 43 million drivers on UK roads, according to DVLA figures, this could mean that up to 200,000 drivers may also be regular drug users,” he added.

“Although no extensive national studies have been conducted into the prevalence of drug driving in the UK, even from these figures we can see the possible scale of the problem – there is an urgent need to better understand how many drug users go on to drive while under the influence of drugs, and for more action to tackle the danger,” Iain said.

According to Concateno, such action would include:

• A national or regional testing pilot for drug driving to provide much-needed data
• Routine drug driving detection using existing screening devices to back-up current road safety practices such as the Field Impairment Test (FIT)

Drug driving / testing pilot
“The UK needs to assess properly the real extent of the numbers of people driving under the influence of illegal drugs in this country, rather than having to rely on an outline picture of the drug driving problem here,” said Iain.

“Studies in the UK to date have only drawn on very small population samples (and therefore a relative degree of knowledge and understanding about the issue) and pale in comparison with examples from other countries such as Norway, Australia and Italy.

“These findings could then inform the development of targeted initiatives to help reduce the problem,” he added.

Routine drug driving detection with screening devices
Under current UK law, police can use a roadside device to test for alcohol, but rely on the FIT to determine impairment from drug use. Screening devices to support FIT exist and could be accommodated within current law, providing police with a reliable, easy-to-use means of determining whether someone has been driving under the influence of illicit drugs.

FIT is a simple, five-step roadside observation exercise conducted by trained police officers. If the police suspect driving impairment from drugs, the driver will be arrested and taken to the police station before being examined by a doctor, who takes a blood test to determine drug use.

“Concateno recommends the introduction of existing reliable drug screening devices to quickly and easily assess the presence of an illegal drug in the driver’s system. Used in police stations, this could simplify the processes required to prove – or eliminate – drug use while supporting current road safety policing practice with FITs,” said Iain.

Sir Peter North review
The Department for Transport (DfT) recently appointed Sir Peter North, QC, to review the need for a change in law as an independent expert. His report is due at the end of March 2010, and is expected to be followed by a further consultation period before the DfT publishes its post-2010 road safety strategy.

Iain concluded: “The detail behind ACPO’s latest drink and drug driving figures underlines the need for a continued and nationally consistent focus. We fully support Sir Peter North’s review, and hope that it will recognise the benefits and limitations of existing practice when considering drug driving.”

Notes
Concateno has extensive experience in providing drug driving testing solutions to various countries, including Australia, Croatia, Italy and Spain.

Australia’s State of Victoria has seen a clear reduction in drug driving since the introduction of Concateno’s roadside drug testing devices in 2004 as part of an ongoing road safety initiative. Here, data collected from more than 70,000 roadside drug tests over a four-year period of roadside testing and educational drug-driving campaigns indicated that drug driving in the State had decreased by almost 50 percent from one driver in 44 (2004 figures) to one driver in 76 (2008 figures).

Research into drug driving
Research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health presented at the European Traffic Police Network (TISPOL)’s conference in Harrogate in October 2008 comprised a representative selection of 10,835 drivers who were tested for drugs and alcohol. TISPOL estimated that if the results from that study were applied to the UK, the number of journeys taken by drivers unfit to drive because of drugs would be equivalent to around one million car journeys.

Similar studies from other countries, including Italy, which has been conducting roadside testing since a change in legislation in 2002, show that the availability of a greater depth of evidentiary data supports the revision and implementation of related legislation and strategies to reduce the risks of drug driving in these countries.