Mixed reactions to latest Drug-Driving Campaign
A £2.3m advertising campaign launched last week to warn of the risks of driving whilst under the influence of drugs has received a mixed reception from the British public and road safety experts.
The television advert warns motorists that police can spot the involuntary signs of someone being under the influence of drugs if they are stopped. These signs include severely dilated or constricted pupils. The advert shows a car carrying several young people with their eyes enlarged, adding: “Your eyes will give you away.”[youtube cMOm6cERZWw]
Young men aged between 17 and 29 are thought to be most likely to drive while on illegal drugs. Indeed, a recent survey in Scotland suggested that 81% of clubbers have driven whilst under the influence of illegal drugs.
The Department for Transport (DfT) estimates that as many as one in five drivers or motorcyclists killed in road accidents may have an impairing drug (legal or illegal) in their system. Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said in a recent interview, “Whatever one’s views on drug taking, we’ve got to make it absolutely socially unacceptable to drive while under the influence of drugs, because it can kill.”
Police currently use a Field Impairment Test (FIT), which can include asking the driver to close their eyes and estimate when 30 seconds have passed. Drugs impair the body’s internal clock so drug users tend to be very inaccurate. Other tests include standing on one leg, touching your nose with the tip of your finger and walking heel-to-toe whilst counting the steps out loud.
Police officers can take a suspect to a police station to perform blood and urine tests to confirm their suspicions.
France and Germany have a zero tolerance approach to driving and drugs – driving does not have to be impaired, simply having illegal drugs in one’s system when driving is an offence. Roadside saliva tests are used to check for the presence of drugs.
Brake, the Road safety charity, has welcomed the £2.3m campaign but has called on ministers to approve a breathalyser-style drug-testing device. However, there is not yet a roadside testing device that can detect the wide range of drugs that drivers may have taken. Cathy Keeler, deputy chief executive of Brake said, “The government has been dragging its heels on approving a roadside testing device even though police in countries like Germany are already using saliva wipes to catch lots of drug drivers.
“There are already some devices out there that can identify some of the most common drugs people take and there’s really no reason for the government to wait for some perfect device to detect all of them.”
Anyone caught drug-driving currently faces the same fate as those caught drink-driving: a minimum one year driving ban, up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.
Examples of the effects various illegal drugs can have include:
Cannabis – distorts a driver’s perception of time and distance so other vehicles seem closer than they really are. Cannabis users often struggle to do two things at once, like changing gear and steering.
Cocaine – causes feelings of over-confidence which leads to aggressive, risky driving at high speeds.
Amphetamines (e.g. speed) – impair coordination and make drivers less likely to react to potential hazards.
Ecstasy – causes blurred vision and poor judgement. Use may also lead to extreme anxiety and paranoia.
The television advert released last week focuses on illegal drugs, but other aspects of the campaign in print and on the internet will also address the issues surrounding legal prescription drugs, which can also be very dangerous when driving. The rule with these is to ‘always read the label or ask a doctor or pharmacist’. At this time of year, antihistamines used in hay fever remedies often cause drowsiness and reduce reaction times. Anti-depressants and tranquillisers are also potentially risky. Some ‘over the counter’ remedies such as those for colds an flu can also have unwanted effects.
Viewers of the campaign have given a mixed response – these are just two examples found on the BBC forums:
“Once again more money wasted attempting to prevent the impossible. Most accidents are caused by people not paying attention to what they are doing, or worse, not caring what they are doing. DD of both kinds (Drunk and Drugs) cause a small percentage of the 3000 deaths a year on the roads in this country.
To decide whether or not nick someone based on pupil dilation is ridiculous!!”
“Drink and drugs are clearly not good starting points for anyone driving. But if the object is to save lives on the road surely we should be improving the standards of driving among those that cause between 80 and 90% of the accidents. Which is to say the drug and drink free majority.”