Shadow minister to propose drug-driving bill
By The Guardian – Thursday September 5 2002
Copyright: The Guardian
A new offence of “drug driving” could be on the statue books by the end of next year if a new bill gets government backing when MPs return in the autumn.
Shadow Home Office minister Nick Hawkins today announced he would bring in a bill in the next parliamentary session to recognise a separate offence of drug-driving in a bid to clamp down on tens of thousands of motorists who are believed to drive under the influence of narcotics.
Last month Mr Hawkins called on the government to carry out a “proper investigation” on the effect of drugtaking on road accidents, but today he accused the Home Office of continuing to “bury their heads in the sand” on the issue.
“There is a potentially huge problem which is being ignored,” he said.
“When people drive under the influence of drugs they are not simply endangering themselves, but they are putting other road users’ and pedestrians’ lives in danger.
“It is the government’s responsibility to do all it can to protect law-abiding citizens, but on the issue it is failing to do so.”
Mr Hawkins said that after the summer recess he would seek to amend section 4 of the Road Traffic Act to introduce the separate offence of drug-driving.
This would require the police to identify when a driver is under the influence of drugs, rather than alcohol.
The law currently states that “a person who, when driving a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs is guilty of an offence”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said it was the government’s intention under its road safety strategy to force drivers to undergo tests for drugs as they currently do for alcohol.
At present, the police do not have the power to carry out roadside drug tests.
The spokeswoman said: “Driving while impaired by drugs is a serious criminal offence, which we recognised in the government’s recent road safety strategy.
“In 2000 there were around 1,800 convictions for drug-driving in England and Wales.
“We’re aware of the need to improve the way drug-driving is identified so that existing laws can be made more effective”.
It is estimated that about 88,000 drivers a year escape prosecution for drug-driving because of the absence of roadside testing.
Experts believe that at least 4,500 deaths and 135,000 serious injuries are caused in Europe each year by drug-driving.