In Drug driving: the tip of an iceberg? PACTS calls on the government to review the way that drug driving is tackled. While increasing numbers of drivers are being caught and prosecuted in some areas, in others areas drivers appear to be getting away with it.
- Enforcement of the drug driving laws varies dramatically across the country. Some police forces convict 10 times more drug drivers than others.
- Some police forces now have as many convictions for drug driving as drink driving while in other forces patrols are rationed to a single test.
- 12,391 people were convicted of a drug driving offence in 2019. These numbers are rising fast.
- Nearly half of drug drive offences (44%) are committed by a reoffender
- 67% of those convicted of drug driving had one or more previous conviction, typically for theft/burglary or drug-related offences.
The report shows that high costs and delays with blood testing mean that some police forces are rationing what should be a routine roadside test. Forces with better procedures, contracts and training are convicting ten times more drug drivers than others, when controlling for population size.
Reoffending is also 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. To address these issues, a Drug Drive Rehabilitation Course and High Risk Offender Scheme should be introduced, modelled broadly on the existing drink drive programmes, but with better screening for drug and mental health problems and with clear pathways to treatment.
Drug drivers are much more likely to have a criminal history than the general public. 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, these offences were 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. PACTS recommends 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.
We still do not have answers to many of the vital questions around the impact of drug driving, including how many people are killed as a result of drug driving, and how many roadside drug drive tests are undertaken. There are reasons to believe the problem may be far greater than current systems show and may be growing – the tip of an iceberg.
Over the past five years, great strides have been made in legislation and enforcement of drug driving, in line with the recommendations of the 2010 North Report. However, this report shows that more action is now needed.
The PACTS report recommends:
- The Department for Transport, in collaboration with the Department for Health, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, should undertake a review of policy on drug driving
- The Government should introduce a new combined drink and drug driving offence, with a lower blood alcohol limit.
- Levels of drug driving enforcement should be increased in the UK, particularly in those police force areas where levels are low
- The Home Office should review the blood testing process and seek ways to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of laboratory testing by increasing capacity, improved procurement, or other means. It should consider the possibility of reclaiming costs from those who are found guilty
- A drug drive rehabilitation course, based on the current drink drive course, should be introduced in the UK
- The Department for Transport should produce and publish robust offence and casualty data on drug driving using coroner data and other sources, as they do for drink driving.
Commenting on the report, 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 an iceberg.
The 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.
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.”
Drink driving – the tip of an iceberg? by Evan Webster, Policy and Research Officer, PACTS, February 2021.
Download the full report here: PACTS Drug Driving – The tip of an iceberg [3.0]