The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents The North Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law February 2010

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1 THE NORTH REVIEW INTO DRINK AND DRUG DRIVING This is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents submission to the North Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law. It has been produced following consultation with RoSPA s National Road Safety Committee. DRUG DRIVING 1 Do you consider the current offence under s4(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 of driving while unfit due to drugs to be effective and adequate? 1.1 RoSPA considers this offence to be ineffective. Drug driving is more complex than drink driving, and our knowledge about it is far less comprehensive. Although many drugs impair driving and a proportion of drivers take drugs, we do not have clear data about the numbers of road accidents and casualties caused by drug driving. Even where drugs are detected in a driver following a crash, it does not necessarily mean that they caused or contributed to the crash. 2 Do you think that the current law is adequately enforced by the police? Do you think the police should have greater powers to stop drivers to test if they are impaired? 2.1 The complex procedure for detecting, charging and convicting a drug driver makes it difficult for the police to enforce the law adequately. During the Christmas 2009 drink/drug drive campaign fewer than 500 Field Impairment Tests for drugs were conducted, compared with over 223,000 alcohol breath tests As with drink driving, RoSPA believes that the police should have the power to conduct random and targeted drug drive tests. 3 Do you consider that a new offence that prohibits driving with a specific drug or level of drug in the body would make the regulation of drug driving more effective? 3.1 A new offence of driving with an illegal drug in the body would make it easier to catch and convict drug drivers, which in turn would be a greater deterrent. RoSPA believes that the only way to emulate the success we have had against drink driving is to implement a practical and effective system for detecting, charging and convicting drivers who are driving while impaired through drugs. 4 Should any new or amended offence be based on: (a) an absolute ban on driving with drugs in the system? (b) driving with a certain, specified level of a drug within the driver s system, as is the case with alcohol? If yes, what drugs do you think should be included or specified and why? 4.1 An absolute ban would be best, so the law does not set a legal level of use for drugs that are illegal in the first place. However, many illegal drugs can be used legally if they are prescribed. Therefore, an exemption will be needed for drivers who have been prescribed the drugs. If their driving is impaired, the existing offence of driving under the influence of drugs can be used. 1

2 5 If a new offence is created for some drugs, does the existing offence of driving under the influence of drugs need to be retained for others? 5.1 The existing offence would still be needed for drugs (legal or illegal) that were not encompassed by the new offence. 6 Do you consider that any new offence should apply to: (a) all controlled drugs (eg heroin, cannabis, cocaine)? (b) prescribed or over the counter drugs which are used inappropriately or may otherwise have impairing effects? 6.1 Including all illegal drugs listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 may not be practical because it would require a wide variety of testing regimes, which would be unwieldy and expensive. Therefore, the offence should apply to illegal drugs that have been shown to impair driving. 6.2 The new offence should not apply to prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, because some people may be deterred from taking the medicines that they need. Including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines would make the new offence little different from the existing one, and the benefit of making it easier to catch and convict drivers with illegal drugs in their bodies would be lost. 6.3 It is difficult to predict whether a medicine might impair one s driving because the sideeffects vary between people, and the advice given on the medicines and by doctors and pharmacists is often not clear (for example, "may cause drowsiness"). A driver may not realise that their driving has been impaired by their medicine(s) until it is too late, as the impairment may be gradual and subtle. Better education is needed about the effects of medicines on driving, and the medical profession, and pharmaceutical suppliers, need to improve the advice they provide. 6.4 Individuals need to be responsible for deciding whether they are fit to drive, and where they get this substantially wrong, the existing offence of driving under the influence of drugs could be used. 7 Do you think that the law should also specifically address impairment caused by combining drugs with alcohol? 7.1 RoSPA does not think that an offence of driving with alcohol and drugs is necessary. We are not clear what additional benefits would be gained. The penalties would have to be more severe than for drink driving or drug driving alone, and the police would need to conduct both alcohol and drug tests which would have resource implications. 8 What is your view on compulsory drug testing of all drivers involved in fatal (or serious) road accidents? 8.1 Compulsory drug testing of drivers in fatal or serious accidents should be introduced. 2

3 9 Do you think that there are any legal or procedural barriers to securing a conviction for drug-driving? What alternatives or improvements can you suggest? 9.1 The procedure is too complicated. A police officer must establish a person s driving is impaired, and that drugs may be the reason, arrest the driver, arrange for a Forensic Medical Examiner to certify that drugs may be present and, if so, take a sample for toxicological analysis. 10 What is your knowledge and view of available drug testing equipment? 10.1 There have been attempts to develop a roadside drug tester for well over 20 years, but it has still not been possible to produce a device that can be type approved. We do not believe that changes to drug driving laws should depend upon such equipment becoming available. 11 Do you consider that the procedures for drug testing at the police station (including the role of the Forensic Medical Examiner) need to be improved? 11.1 We understand that it is normal for a nurse to be present in custody suites. If so, the feasibility of nurses certifying the presence of drugs and taking samples should be investigated. 3

4 ALCOHOL 1 Do you think that the current prescribed blood alcohol limit of 80mg/100ml should be reduced to 50mg/100ml or less? 1.1 RoSPA believes that the limit should be lowered to 50 mg. 1.2 Despite 30 years of drink drive education and enforcement, around 100,000 people are still caught drink driving annually, and 8 people die in drink drive accidents every week The current limit was based on evidence that the likelihood of a road accident rises sharply at and above that level. However, the evidence also showed that most drivers are impaired and their risk increases below this limit. 1.4 The Scottish Government has called for the power to set the drink drive limit in Scotland if it is not lowered in England and Wales. 3 The majority (79%) of people in Scotland support a lower limit. 4 The limit should be reduced for the whole UK, but RoSPA would support one just in Scotland, if necessary, in the hope that this would lead the way. 1.5 Although, the ideal limit is zero alcohol, RoSPA does not believe that this is literally possible and certainly not achievable in a single leap from the current limit of 80mg. Therefore, we think the best option is a reduction to 50 mg. 2 Do you think that the current penalty regime for drink driving offences is sufficient? 2.1 RoSPA believes that the current level of penalties is appropriate. They are considerably more stringent than in many other countries. However, without sufficient and visible enforcement, the effectiveness of these laws and penalties is significantly weakened 2.2 Courts should have the power to impose a driving ban as part of bail conditions, and to immediately confiscate the driving licence of drivers who have failed an evidential breath test. 2.3 Where an offender is imprisoned, the disqualification period should not begin until they have been released from prison. 3 Do you think that the current penalty regime is effective in tackling repeat offenders? How do you think repeat offenders should be dealt with? 3.1 It is quite right that repeat offenders are given ever more stringent penalties, including imprisonment where appropriate. The High Risk Offenders Scheme is an important part of the drink drive regime. In addition to a longer disqualification, higher fine and possible imprisonment, offenders must prove that they do not have a drink problem and are fit to drive before their licences are returned. They should be required to take an extended driving test at the end of their disqualification before being able to regain their driving licence. 4

5 3.2 In Scotland, the Christmas/New Year Drink Drive campaign included, for the first time, seizing the vehicle of repeat drink driver offenders. 5 During the campaign, four drivers had their cars forfeited, and a further 24 had their cars seized pending consideration by the Court. RoSPA believes that this is a significant additional deterrent, it should be adopted throughout the UK. 4 What other measures (other than stricter limits) do you consider could be effective in addressing drink driving? 4.1 RoSPA believes that a package of drink drive measures is needed, including: Evidential roadside breath testing Wider powers to breath test drivers, including random breath testing Wider use of drink drive rehabilitation courses Encouragement for employers to set zero limits for staff who drive for work Improved public education Further development of alco-locks. 5 Do you think that the current law is adequately enforced by the police? Do you think the police should have greater powers to stop drivers to test if they are impaired or over the limit (eg random testing)? 5.1 Enforcement levels have fallen, and are inconsistent. Just under 600,000 breath tests were conducted in ,000 fewer than ten years previously. 6 The number of tests varied from 216 per 100,000 of the population in the West Midlands to 3,410 in North Wales. 7 An increase in breath testing and more consistency across the country would improve the effectiveness of drink drive laws. 5.2 The police should have wider powers to breath test drivers, including the power to conduct random breath tests. This would increase drivers perception of the risk of being caught. 5.3 The power to use evidential breathalysers at the roadside was introduced in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act This would mean that the roadside test could be used as evidence in court and eliminate the need for the second test, which in turn would free much police time. However, this equipment is still not in use. 6 What is your view of the Government s drink and drug drive message and the relationship between that message and the law? 6.1 RoSPA believes that drink drive publicity campaigns are one of the reasons for the long term reduction in drink driving. Drug driving publicity is much newer, but the government s work on targeting the delivery of messages in appropriate ways is to be commended. 7 If the blood alcohol limit were to be reduced, do you think that the penalty attached to a lower limit should be changed? 7.1 The penalties for exceeding the current drink drive limit should be applied to the lower limit of 50mg. Less stringent penalties would suggest that it is a less serious offence. However, the lower limit should be accompanied by sustained and high profile publicity and education to raise awareness that people who previously had one or two drinks and then drove are likely to find themselves exceeding the new limit. 5

6 7.2 Particular attention should be focused on the Morning After effect. It is very difficult to know exactly how much alcohol has been consumed, and how long it will take the liver to remove it from the bloodstream (which varies from person to person). Some drivers who do not drive when drinking at night, find themselves unknowingly still over the limit the following morning. This happens now with a limit of 80mg, and will happen more often with a lower limit. Care should be taken to avoid a perception that such people are being unfairly criminalised, especially when the penalties are so severe. 7.3 If a limit of 20 mg were set, we believe it would be necessary to consider less stringent penalties for those caught with a blood alcohol level between 20 mg and 50 mg. 8 Do you think that different prescribed limit (or limits) should be imposed on different classes of drivers and riders (eg novice drivers, drivers of Public Service Vehicles (eg buses and coaches), HGVs and those driving for hire or reward)? 8.1 RoSPA does not believe that a lower limit for young or new drivers should be introduced. Enforcement would require the police to be able to check a driver s age or licence status and there is a risk that once such drivers became subject to the standard limit they may mistakenly think they can drink more and drive. 8.2 There are good reasons to introduce a separate, lower limit for professional passenger carrying and goods vehicle drivers, although road casualty data on its own does not justify such a move. In 2008, 0.4% of bus/coach drivers who were breath tested after an accident failed the test, as did 0.6% of HGV drivers. The failure rate for car drivers was 3.7% However, a lower limit for bus and coach drivers might be justified because they are carrying fare paying passengers who have a right to expect greater safety from the company they have paid to transport them. Logically, this should include taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, and chauffeurs. For large goods vehicle drivers, the justification would be that the severity of crashes involving these vehicles is higher due to their size and mass. 8.4 An analysis of the proportion of crashes involving professional drivers who had been drinking alcohol should be conducted before a decision is taken to introduce a separate limit for them. 9 Do you think that there is a case for immediate suspension of a person s driving licence where that person fails a breath test? 9.1 RoSPA believes that immediate suspension of a person s driving licence when they fail an evidential breath test should be introduced. 6

7 10 Do you think that the right (under s8(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988) to have a breath specimen replaced with a specimen of blood or urine where the lower of the two breath specimens is less than 50mcg/100ml is justified in light of modern testing equipment? 10.1 RoSPA thinks that the right to a replacement blood or urine test should be withdrawn, except where a driver is unable to provide a breath sample. Evidential breath tests are accurate and reliable, and the time delay in finding a doctor can mean a driver is below the limit by the time they take the alternative test, even though they were above the limit when they were first tested. 11 What do you consider the impacts of any lowering of the blood-alcohol limit may be on casualties, other health outcomes, businesses and on the economy more widely? 11.1 Between 50mg and 80 mg drivers are times more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers with no alcohol, and up to 6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash In 2000, the Government s Road Safety Strategy 9 estimated that reducing the limit to 50mg could save 50 lives, and prevent 250 serious injuries and 1,200 slight injuries each year. A more recent examination of the figures suggests that reducing the legal limit could save 65 lives each year and prevent 230 serious injuries Given an average cost of over 1.6m per fatality, the economic benefits would be very significant Changes to drink driving laws, and the public attention that is likely to accompany such changes, may contribute to the wider public health debate about sensible drinking. 12 Do you think that the drink drive laws in other countries provide examples of practice that could be adopted in the UK? 12.1 An International review 11 of the impact of introducing or lowering limits found: In Australia, reducing the limit from 80 to 50 mg significantly reduced drink driving, and the levels of alcohol in drivers involved in drink drive accidents. In France, reducing the limit from 80 to 50 mg reduced the number of fatalities involving a driver who had been drinking. In Austria, reducing the limit from 80 to 50 mg, resulted in a decline in the proportion of accidents that involved alcohol. In Sweden, reducing the limit from 50 to 20 mg was followed by a reduction in fatal and injury crashes. Reducing the higher limit from mg, resulted in a significant reduction in fatal crashes. In various American states, reducing the limit from 100 to 80 mg produced differing results, sometimes showing significant reductions in fatal collisions The effects were often not restricted to drivers at blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) specifically affected by the legal change, but included drivers at higher alcohol levels, possibly due to general deterrence. 7

8 References ACPO Press Release 006/10, 21 January 2010 Reported Road casualties Great Britain, 2008, DfT 2009 Scotland s Road Safety Framework to 2020, Scottish Government, 2009 Strong support for action on drink driving, Scottish Government news release 24 January 2010, Vehicle Forfeiture to Continue Beyond Festive Drink Drive Campaign, ACPOS press release, 2 January 2010 Road Safety Compliance Consultation, DfT 2009 Police Powers and Procedures, England and Wales 07/08, Home Office, April 2009 Combating Drink Driving: Next Steps: A Consultation Paper, DETR, 1998 Tomorrow s Roads: Safer for Everyone, DETR, Reducing the BAC level to 50 mg What Can We Expect to Gain, R Allsopp, PACTS Research Briefing, The Effects of Introducing or Lowering Legal per se Blood Alcohol Limits for Driving: An International Review, Mann et al, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2001; 33(5). 8

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