A new report, published by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) shows that enforcement of the drug driving laws varies dramatically across the country.
The report, 'Drink driving – the tip of an iceberg?', urges the Government to review its ways of tackling the offence.
It shows that police forces with better procedures, contract and training are convicting ten times more drug drivers than others, when controlling for population size.
The high costs and delays with blood testing has resulted in some police forces rationing what should be a routine roadside test.
PACTS suggests a new drug drive rehabilitation course and high-risk offender scheme be introduced. Although similar to existing drink drive programmes, it should have better screening for drug and mental health problems and with clear pathways to treatment.
This is particularly in response to reoffending, 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.
In 2019 a total of 12,391 people were convicted of a drug driving offence, but PACTS reports these numbers are rising fast.
Previous research has shown that drug drivers are much more likely to have a criminal history. 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 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.
To combat this, 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.
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 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. 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”.
The PACTS report recommends that a combined effort from numerous bodies should review drug driving policy. This includes 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.
PACTS recommendations for The Government include:
• Introduce a new combined drink and drug driving offence, with a lower blood alcohol limit
• Increase levels of drug driving enforcement in the UK, particularly in those police force areas where levels are low
• Review the blood testing process, seeking ways to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of laboratory testing by increasing capacity, improved procurement, or other means
• Consider the possibility of reclaiming costs from those who are found guilty
A new drug drive rehabilitation course, based on the current drink drive course, should be introduced in the UK, PACTS says, 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”.