Survey reveals extent of driving on illegal drugs in the UK

UK drug driving survey shows up to 3% of drivers have been impaired by illegal drugs during the last year with Brake urging people to speak out against this activity.

Road safety charity, Brake, has published its findings from a survey undertaken to find out the extent to which drivers in the UK are operating their vehicles whilst impaired by illegal drugs. Summary results include 3% of drivers admitting to being behind the wheel whilst impaired by drugs and 11% believing they may have been a passenger in a car driven by someone who’d taken drugs.

The survey was conducted amongst 1000 drivers with 97% saying they had never driven after taking illegal drugs, 2% admitting to taking cannabis and the remainder admitting variously to taking cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines and heroin.

Amongst passengers, 89% don’t believe they’ve ever been in a car with a drug impaired driver with 2% saying they definitely had, 4% probably have and 6% possibly have.

More than 7 out of 10 respondents said they would speak out if a close friend intended to drive after taking illegal drugs, 5% said they wouldn’t and 24% would only speak out if they thought the driver was clearly impaired in some way.

Brake voiced its concern at the low level of willingness to speak out, stating that the effects of taking illegal drugs are not always predictable. They also effect people in different ways and for varying lengths of time. Given this level of unpredictability, Brake advises passengers to always speak out if they know or suspect that their driver has taken drugs.

Brake explained that fears about being confrontational with a friend or family member shouldn’t be a factor since confrontation isn’t necessary. The charity advises people to talk to the driver in a friendly way, explaining why it’s a seriously bad idea to get behind the wheel. This could be followed up by an offer to call a taxi, walk them to a bus stop or accompany them home. If they are insistent on driving, it might be necessary to be more firm, taking their keys or even calling the police.

Drug impaired driving has been a concern for a number of years but legislation hasn’t yet reached the point where it can be enforced consistently in a measurable way. This is despite the fact that as long ago as 2000, the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) undertook a study which showed that 18% of car drivers and 16% of motorcyclists who died in road accidents had been found to have traces of illegal drugs in their system.

However, a new law is due to come into force on 2nd March 2015 which will make it easier for police to enforce impaired driving. Under the new law, it will be a criminal offence to drive under the influence of drugs. Penalties will include up to six months in jail, a fine of up to £5000 and an automatic driving ban of 12 months.

Brake’s deputy chief executive, Julie Townsend commented that drug impaired driving causes devastation to communities and families, cutting short too many lives too soon. She went on to say that no-one should ever underestimate the effects of illegal drugs on the ability to drive and that if someone has taken any drugs, they aren’t fit to drive, whatever they or anyone else might think. By speaking out, innocent lives can be saved and friends or relatives can be spared heavy fines and a possible jail term.

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Human Factors

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