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2 March 2015, 07:42 | Updated: 2 March 2015, 07:44
Hampshire and Dorset Police now have new equipment to catch people who take drugs and drive.
A new law comes in today setting the legal limit for illegal - and some prescription - drugs.
Roads Policing Unit officers will be trained to use a piece of equipment brand new to force: the DrugWipe 3S. The new kit allows officers to take a specimen of saliva at the roadside or police station, and perform a preliminary test to detect a number of illegal drugs in the system.
This adds an additional tool in officers’ armoury to detect offenders who put their own lives and the lives of other people at risk by driving whilst under the influence of drugs.
Today (Monday 2 March), a new road traffic offence comes into being, that of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with the concentration of a specified controlled drug being above a specified limit. This is contrary to Section 5A of the RTA 1988.
This law will mean it will be an offence to be over the limit for each specified drug whilst driving, as it is with drink driving. The new offence will work alongside the existing offence of driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs.
To assist police in the detection of those who decide to drive with illegal drugs in their body, a new law gives officers the power to conduct a preliminary drug test from a specimen of sweat or saliva. This power is referred to as Section 6C of the RTA 1988.
Drugs covered by the new legislation include cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine. The limits for illegal drugs will be close to zero and other drugs will subject to a risk-based limit.
Sergeant Rob Heard, who leads on road safety issues for Hampshire Constabulary, said:
“It is illegal to drive if you are unfit to drive by legal or illegal drugs. If the police stop you and think you’re on drugs they can do a Field Impairment Test. This is a series of tests that assesses a driver’s ability to drive safely.
“If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have a blood test at a police station. If the test shows that you’ve taken drugs you could be charged with an offence.
“You don’t have to be on illegal drugs to be unfit to drive - many prescription or over-the-counter medicines may also impair your ability to drive safely. If you’re taking medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional before driving and read any instruction leaflets contained with medicines.
“This new law does not replace the offence of 'Driving whilst Unfit through drink or drugs', contrary to Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act, but compliments it and gives assistance in bringing to justice those who decide to use drugs and drive on our roads.
“All those suspected of driving whilst unfit, or over the prescribed drug limit will still need to have a blood sample taken for analysis to confirm the drug being present.
“Taking drugs can seriously impair driving skills. Driving whilst under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous and can affect driving in numerous ways.
“Drug drivers can suffer from slower reaction times, erratic and aggressive behaviour, an inability to concentrate properly, nausea, hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, tremors, dizziness and fatigue. In such a condition, it is a bad idea to be behind the wheel of a car, for the driver and their passengers.”
This new law will help make it very difficult for those who decide to drive whilst unfit or over a specified drug limit to avoid detection and prosecution.
A drug drive conviction will have a serious effect on a driver’s life, with penalties including a criminal record, a minimum 12 month driving ban and a fine of up to £5,000.
“It could also cost you your job,” Sergeant Heard warns.
“Drugs impair your driving and driving under the influence of drugs is unacceptable. The convicton will remain on your driving licence for 11 years, and may affect your ability to hire vehicles. Get caught and you will have to suffer the shame of your family, friends and colleagues knowing you’re a drug driver.”
Inspector Matt Butler, of Dorset Police's Traffic Unit, said:
"We know that drugs can impair driving and cause collisions. This is a really positive piece of new legislation that will allow us to remove dangerous drivers from our roads. There are serious consequences from a drug drive conviction including a criminal record, a minimum 12 month driving ban and a fine of up to £5,000.
"We certainly hope that the road-side tests will deter people from driving under the influence of drugs.”
Neal Staley, whose ten-year-old daughter Evey was killed by a driver both under the influence of cannabis and over the alcohol limit, has expressed his support for the launch of new equipment to help police maximise legal powers to target drug driving.
Neal, from the Isle of Wight, now runs Isle Drive Safe – Remember Evey, a road safety charity dedicated to reducing casualties on the island. He said:
"I'm delighted that police forces will now be able to comprehensively test for drugs in peoples systems at the roadside. The issue of drug driving is huge, whether recreational or prescribed, both will have an affect on a person’s ability to control their vehicle safely.
“The consequences of driving whilst under the influence are, quite frankly, devastating and incredibly difficult for those affected to comprehend. That someone would knowingly do something so stupid and selfish is quite extraordinary, they have no idea whatsoever how much sadness, pain and suffering their actions could bring.
“My beautiful little girl was taken so suddenly and so violently by one such person. I never had a chance to hold her and say goodbye, I'll wake up sad every day for the rest of my life wondering: what if? There are few words to describe that feeling.
“I hope that now this legislation is in force, the police and courts are brave enough to prosecute to the full limit of the law. I also feel that the 'cap' of 14 years for this kind of recklessness should be removed. No one should have to go through the daily misery I still endure due to inaction or selfishness.”