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Van driver is given a breath test

Drinking: better testing

New drug driving offence being considered

IMPROVED testing equipment to detect drink and drug drivers will be given the green light and key changes made to streamline enforcement of both offences in a new package of measures announced today (21 March) by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

The government will also examine the case for a new specific drug driving offence – alongside the existing one – which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected.

The measures are set out in the government’s response to the North Report on Drink and Drug Driving, which was published last year.

The prescribed alcohol limit for driving will not be changed, with the focus instead on improving enforcement and education to tackle the drink and drug drivers who put lives at risk.

Philip Hammond said: “Drink and drug driving are serious offences and we are determined to ensure they are detected and punished effectively.

“It is just as dangerous to drive impaired by drugs as alcohol so we need to send a clear message that drug drivers are as likely to be caught as drink drivers and that drug driving is as socially unacceptable as drink driving has become. That is why we will approve drug-testing devices and change the law to speed up the testing process, ensuring the police can bring drug drivers to justice.

“The number of drink driving deaths has fallen by more than 75% since 1979. But drink driving still kills hundreds of people so we need to take tough action against the small minority of drivers who flagrantly ignore the limit. Their behaviour is entrenched and after careful consideration we have concluded that improving enforcement is likely to have more impact on these dangerous people than lowering the limit.

“We are therefore taking forward a package of measures which will streamline enforcement, helping the police to target these most dangerous offenders and protect law-abiding road users.”

On drink driving the government will:

  • revoke the right for people whose evidential breath test result is less than 40% over the limit to opt for a blood test (the ‘statutory option’). The breath testing equipment used in police stations is now very accurate and technically sophisticated so a blood sample is not needed to confirm the breath test. The need to organise a blood sample can mean that drivers who were over the limit when breath tested have fallen below the limit by the time their blood sample is taken – removing the statutory option will eliminate this loophole.
  • introduce a more robust drink drive rehabilitation scheme, so that those drink drivers who are substantially in excess of the limit can take remedial training and a linked driving assessment before recovering their licence.
  • approve portable evidential breath testing equipment for the police – this will speed up the testing process and free up police time.
  • close a loophole used by high risk offenders to delay their medical examinations.
  • streamline the procedure for testing drink drivers in hospital.

On drug driving the government will:

  • approve preliminary drug-testing equipment – initially for use in police stations, and at the roadside as soon as possible. The Home Office is currently testing six drug-testing devices and plans type-approval by the end of June.
  • allow custody nurses to advise the police whether or not a suspected driver has a condition that may be due to a drug. This will remove the need to call out police doctors and so speed up the testing process – ensuring that drug drivers do not escape punishment because a doctor is not available and also freeing up police time.
  • examine the case for a new specific drug driving offence – alongside the existing one – which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected.

Deaths from drink driving have fallen 77% since 1979 according to government figures. However, around a fifth of drivers killed on the road were over the drink drive limit.

Drink and Drug Driving – the law

It is an offence to drive when over the drink drive limit. The breath alcohol limit is 35 microgrammes per 100 millitres of breath and the blood alcohol limit is 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood.

It is illegal to drive while unfit through drugs.

The penalties are the same for drink driving and drug driving:

  • On conviction, a minimum 12 month disqualification and a maximum fine of £5,000.
  • The record of disqualification remains on a licence for 11 years which can mean problems for those who drive for a living.
  • Such convictions can mean difficulties in renting cars or getting visas for some countries.