Select Committee on Transport Tenth Report

7  Drink and drug driving

136. The enforcement of drink-driving and drug-driving legislation is a good illustration of the importance of having both police officers and effective technology available and working well together. There have been delays in getting access to the most appropriate new technologies, and debates about whether legislative change is needed to enable more effective enforcement.

Increasing prevalence of drink-driving and drug-driving

137. During the 1980s the number of people killed and seriously injured in drink-drive collisions in Great Britain fell from over 9000 (1,450 deaths, 7,970 serious injuries) to just less than 5,000 (760 deaths, 4,090 serious injuries).[220] Over the last ten years, however, there has been no overriding trend in the number of alcohol-related road deaths and injuries. The level has fluctuated from year to year. The fewest alcohol-related deaths—460—occurred in 1998 and 1999, but the number has since risen to 580 in 2003, and provisional data suggests 560 deaths in 2005.[221]

138. The prevalence of drug-driving is also thought by the police to have increased.[222] The Department for Transport's casualty data does not record drug-related road collisions and casualties separately to drink-related ones, so it is difficult to analyse the exact number of casualties.[223] However, the Home Office statistics relating to motoring offences now include separate data for driver impairment through drugs where this can be identified. In 2004, 203 people were found guilty of being 'unfit to drive through drugs (impairment)' and 15 people were found guilty of being 'in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit through drugs (impairment)'.[224] The Transport Research Laboratory conducted two sets of surveys between 1985 and 1987 and between 1996 and 1999. These showed a six-fold increase in the number of collisions involving drivers who had taken illegal substances, from 3 per cent to 18% (mainly cannabis).[225]

139. Furthermore, we heard that the level of drug-driving was likely to be much higher than that recorded. If a driver tests positive for alcohol he or she is unlikely also to be tested for the presence of drugs.[226] This is because it is much easier to prosecute for excess alcohol than it is for drugs and the penalty is the same.[227] It should be noted that the legislation covering drug-driving covers both illegal and prescribed drugs.


140. Much of the evidence we received indicated that the incidence of drink-driving had increased as the resources given to enforcing drink-driving legislation have fallen.[228] The number of roadside screening tests for alcohol has declined, while the percentage of positive tests has risen. In 1998, there was a peak of 815,000 tests, in which 13% were positive; in 2001, there were 624,000 tests, of which 16% were positive.[229] This represents a dramatic reduction in drink-driving enforcement, with 191,000 fewer tests per year in the space of just three years. The Police Federation told us:

The importance of a visible police presence is perhaps best illustrated by the problem of drink/drug driving, as it can be no surprise that drink drive deaths have increased as the number drink drive tests have fallen […] We believe the decline in roads policing has been an important contributory factor to the increase in this crime.[230]

141. PACTS noted that there was also a great deal of disparity in the number of breath tests per head of population across different police force areas. For example, in Devon, Cornwall and Norfolk, the rate is 380-700 tests per 100,000 people, whereas in North Wales and Hampshire, there is a much higher rate of over 2,000 tests per 100,000 people. The rate of breath testing is also much lower in the UK than the much of the rest of Europe. As PACTS identified:

In terms of tests per head of population, only Ireland and Austria have a lower rate of testing than the UK. In 2000, the UK conducted one screening test for every 67 people; in the Netherlands the figure is 1 in 16, in Spain 1 in 30 and in Finland, 1 in 4. The European average probability of being breath tested is 1 in 16 inhabitants.[231]

In addition, in the UK the current powers do not permit random testing. In most European Union countries the police are entitled to use random breath testing, the only exceptions being Denmark, UK and Ireland. A Swiss study in 1998 found that random breath testing was one of the most cost effective safety measures that can be implemented.[232]

142. Tackling drink-driving would be extremely cost effective, according to a European Commission report. The report estimated that the cost-benefit ratio of increased drink-driving enforcement measures over 15 years would be 1:9.4 in the UK. This staggeringly high cost-benefit ratio is more than the 1:6.9 for the European Union as a whole; indicating the particular problem which the UK has with drink-driving casualties.[233] In comparison, the Home Office told us that a street-crime initiative designed to tackle robbery had achieved benefits of 4.5 to 5 times the costs.[234] Mr Hughes, ACPO Head of Road Policing, expressed that in his view the police should be doing more enforcement of drink-driving. He stated: "I do not think it needs to be too complex; I think we need to do more of the same things we are doing now. In addition, I think we should find new ways of getting the messages out to a new generation of drivers."[235]

143. The perceived lack of enforcement of drug-driving legislation was also thought to be partly responsible for the increase in this type of impairment. The Transport Minister told us:

there is certainly anecdotal evidence and a growing body of substantial evidence that many young people are designating a driver when they go out and that driver is not engaged in consuming alcohol but they may be smoking a joint, because young people sometimes do not appreciate that drugs can impair driving as well. In addition to that, there is a growing number of people who do not think you can be caught for drug-driving.[236]

In fact, over the last five years there has been a significant increase in the number of laboratory drug sample tests carried out by the police: from approximately 350 to 3,700 per year.[237] The lack of advertising and educational campaigns regarding drug-driving was also highlighted.[238] The London Borough of Camden told us:

The dangers of drug-driving has not received anywhere near the same attention as drink-driving. The public is not adequately informed about the consequences in terms of penalties and risk associated with drug-driving, whether it be illicit drugs or prescription and over the counter drugs.[239]

144. More than one in six people killed in road crashes are the victim of drivers over the permitted alcohol limit. This is far too many deaths and indicates a level of non-compliance with traffic law which is appallingly high. The number of drink-drive casualties has increased in recent years, as the number of roads policing officers has fallen. Police enforcement has a crucial role to play. As ACPO noted, the operation does not need to be complex: it is a case of doing much more of the same. We need a uniformly stringent approach to drink-driving enforcement. There should be a greater effort to understand and address the reasons for an increasing number of people's preparedness to drink-drive.

145. The incidence of drug-driving is also on the rise, although the actual scale of the problem is still unknown. There is a widely-held belief among offenders that drug-driving is not enforced by the police. The drug-driving enforcement campaign has not yet really begun in earnest. Given the estimated scale of the problem, there must be much greater enforcement and a publicity campaign directed at drug-driving. The Department for Transport must do more to educate the public of the dangers of both drug-driving and drink-driving.

Use of technology in tackling drink-driving and drug-driving


146. As we have already mentioned, evidential breath testing equipment was introduced in 1982 to detect drink-driving.[240] Technology has continued to develop. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 permitted evidential as well as screening alcohol breath tests at the roadside. Roadside screeners are devices that help police make a judgement about whether to pursue a case.[241] The equipment allows officers to immediately test for the level of alcohol as well as for the presence of alcohol.[242] The power to undertake evidential alcohol testing at the roadside was welcomed by the police. The Police Superintendents' Association stated:

Roadside evidential testing will allow the police in suitable situations to deal very efficiently with offenders, (both at the roadside and at hospital). It will eliminate the need for time consuming travel and long periods in the police station. It will give officers more time to test other drivers and therefore increase productivity without increased resources.[243]

The Police Federation agreed:

At present, officers have to complete a paper form for each and every negative breath test they conduct. This is unnecessarily bureaucratic. The roadside screening device could automatically store the key data (to be downloaded by the officer on a weekly or monthly basis - involving no paperwork).[244]

147. Despite the legislation having been passed, we heard that the actual equipment was not yet widely available. It was suggested that the equipment had not been introduced quickly to the market.[245] The type approval process was identified as one obstacle to its availability.[246] The Association of Chief Police Officers told us:

Roadside evidential testing for alcohol and drug screening are both lawful but are not used in practice due to the time it takes to provide a specification for equipment and the type approval process itself. One real issue is the cost. Currently it costs in the region of £60,000 to type approve a device and all current suppliers are reporting a reluctance to submit for approval without some commitment from the police to purchase large numbers of devices.[247]

The Association called on the government to fund the type approval process to ensure that a 'business benefit' could still be made by individual forces. It advised: "Free approval, as is the case with speed detection devices, funded by the Government would accelerate this advance."[248] The Home Office Minister indicated that the equipment should be available before March 2007.[249]

148. It is disappointing that the police, Home Office and Department for Transport have not found funding to secure the type approval of roadside evidential breath testing equipment. It is unacceptable that last year the Government announced £15 million of extra funding for the continuing development of Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology, and yet it has not made £60,000 available to ensure type approval of roadside evidential breath testing equipment, which could be instrumental in reducing the 3,000-plus people killed and seriously injured through alcohol-related road crashes each year. The Government must work earnestly with manufacturers to resolve barriers to production of the equipment as a matter of urgency.

149. The way in which existing technology is used also influences the effectiveness and efficiency of enforcement. The Police Federation made an argument for removing the optional blood or urine test for offenders with between 40 and 50 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath (the limit is 35 micrograms). The Federation stated:

We believe that the accuracy of modern testing equipment is such that this option should be withdrawn, thereby releasing officers from unnecessary bureaucracy. Offenders are already protected by the cautioning policy which disposes of those between 35 and 39 micrograms (inclusive) without prosecution. We believe this would free up approximately two hours of officer time per officer.[250]

As technology improves the government should review the guidelines governing its use to ensure they continue to strike the correct balance between gathering sufficient evidence to prosecute and making effective use of police time. We recommend the government reviews the merits of offering a blood and urine testing option to drivers with between 40 and 50 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. Improvements in technological accuracy may have made such an option superfluous.


150. Technology has been developed which prevents drivers from starting a vehicle if they exceed the permitted alcohol concentration. The breath alcohol ignition interlock device ('alcolock') is an electronic device, which is installed in a car. Before the driver is able to turn on the ignition he or she has to take a breath test in order to check their breath alcohol concentration. If the breath test reveals an alcohol concentration above the predetermined threshold level, the alcolock is activated and it is impossible to start the car. Various witnesses supported the development of such technology; particularly for past drink-drive offenders.[251]

151. The Road Safety Bill, currently before Parliament, makes provision for the potential future use of alcohol interlock instruments in drink-driving offender programmes.[252] The scale of the drink-drive problem indicates the need for all efforts to be made to promote compliance. Where technology can help increase compliance its use should be encouraged. 'Alcolocks' should be fitted to offenders' vehicles. In addition, the Department should evaluate the impact of eventually fitting alcolocks in all new vehicles, and should the results prove to be beneficial for road safety, the Government should push for alcolock fitment to be incorporated into the European Whole Vehicle Type Approval standards. The alcolock should be calibrated to the Member State's national alcohol limit.


152. Detecting drug-driving has traditionally been problematic. New powers were introduced for roadside testing in September 2003.[253] The Police now have the power to administer an impairment test to indicate whether a person is unfit to drive due to drugs (the 'field impairment tests') and a separate test for the presence of drugs in a person's body ('drug screening test').

153. Again, however, despite the powers being available, technology which enables the drug screening test to be undertaken has not yet been approved for use. The Police Federation described the situation: "The service is in desperate need of an effective drug screening device but this still appears to be some way off. Part of the reason for this is the difficulty and costs associated with Home Office type approval."[254] The Department for Transport and Home Office denied there had been any delay in achieving type approval for drug screening equipment. They told us:

Painstaking work has been under way to develop a necessarily rigorous and detailed specification for a drug screening device. We expect to issue the specification later this year. It will then be for manufacturers to produce devices against that specification and submit them for type approval. The type approval process includes stringent operational and laboratory tests and typically takes at least six months from first submission of a device.[255]

154. One company advised that it had already made a roadside drug screening device and that this was available and in use overseas. D.Tech International told us:

Between the DfT and the Home Office, they have been chasing "Blue Sky" solutions […] Drugwipe 5 is an instant read-out disposable device for detecting the consumption of drugs. It is already used by a number of Police Forces […] Drugwipe has been used by all the traffic police in Germany for 10 years and is under trial through out Europe, with Finland and Belgium having gone operational in late 2005.[256]

The company suggested that its device helped police make an informed decision at the roadside about whether to invest time with a drug impairment specialist and the Forensic Medical Examiner (police doctor) at the police station. It stated: "traffic officers are very wary of being marked down for bringing someone forward through the above process, incurring all the costs, and failing to prosecute. Hence their desire for a preliminary roadside screen to confirm their suspicion that drugs are involved."[257] The Department for Transport and Home Office indicated that they were aware of this technology but that it was not suitable for use in the UK because "legislative provisions and operational conditions […] vary across the continent."[258]

155. The Government told us that the Home Office Scientific Development Branch was currently developing a sophisticated device that is expected to be able to detect and identify all drugs, including illicit drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medicines.[259] It indicated that the device would not be type approved for a couple of years, and at that point a full specification would be available for manufacturers to make and market the device.

156. We welcome the development work which is underway into technologies that will effectively and accurately detect whether drivers have used drugs. Drug-driving already poses a very significant danger on our roads: studies indicate that 18% of collisions involve a driver in whom illicit drugs are present. We are therefore concerned that, given the extent of the problem, far too little attention has been dedicated to such research and development. It is a complex task but the Home Office must prioritise the development of drug screening equipment and police officers must have access to this technology at the earliest possible opportunity. Until this technology is available, the deterrent effect of enforcement will be minimal.

157. ITS-UK indicated that, while drug screening technology is under development, close co-operation is required between roads policing and the Forensic Science Service to ensure prosecution is pursued wherever possible.[260] The Association of Chief Police Officers explained that drug screening would help the police to gain convictions because of the removal of the requirement for a doctor to confirm that the driver is impaired through a drug, which they told us is: "something many are either unable or reluctant to do […]"[261] ACPO suggested that doctors should be better educated and trained in the identification of impairment if enforcement is to improve. A recent Department for Transport research report recommended that the significant number of disagreements between police officers' and medical examiners' findings should be investigated.[262]

158. There should be effective co-operation between roads police officers and forensic scientists to ensure that prosecutions for drug-driving offences are pursued wherever possible. We are concerned that in the context of drug-driving enforcement, the results of police and medical tests frequently do not match. This problem should be explored and both groups should be better trained in the procedures.


159. While the police wait for a drug screening device to become available, they have been undertaking the non-technologically-dependent Field Impairment Test (FIT). The test is used by the police at the roadside to judge whether a driver is impaired. If the driver is unable to perform the test satisfactorily, the officer may decide to arrest him or her on suspicion that drug use may be the cause. At the station the Forensic Medical Examiner certifies whether the driver's condition is due to drink or drugs and a biological sample is taken for drug analysis. The test has five components: pupillary examination; the Romberg Test (estimating the passage of 30 seconds); the walk and turn task; the one-legged stand test; and the finger to nose task.[263]

160. For the first time, in the 2005 Christmas Drink Drive campaign, Field Impairment Tests were carried out on drivers suspected of being affected by drugs. Of the 540 people tested, 178 (33%) were subsequently arrested for drugs offences.[264] A research project commissioned by the Department for Transport published in 2006 found that the Field Impairment Test had generally proved effective at policing drugged drivers. Using roadside application of the Field Impairment Test, officers correctly identified positive and negative results in 66% of cases. Both the Police Superintendents Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers argued that the Field Impairment Test was the most significant improvement in drug enforcement for many years.[265] Despite the success, not all forces have adopted the Field Impairment Test and the number of officers trained in the Field Impairment Test procedure is unknown.[266]

161. We are pleased to see that in the absence of drug screening devices, the police have developed the Field Impairment Test to assist officers to accurately detect drug drivers. The early results are promising. It is therefore disappointing that not all forces have adopted the system. The Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers should work together to ensure that the Field Impairment Test procedure is harmonised and fully applied across police forces.

Legislation and enforcement of drink-driving and drug-driving

162. Various aspects of the legislation governing the enforcement of drink-driving and drug-driving have been criticised for reducing the impact and potential of police enforcement. Suggested improvements are discussed in the sections below.


163. In the UK the maximum permitted blood alcohol content is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The European Commission adopted a non-binding Recommendation in January 2001 that Member States should set blood alcohol content limits at or below 50 milligrammes, and the only Member States other than the UK that have not yet complied with this Recommendation are Ireland and Luxembourg. It is estimated that reducing the permitted blood alcohol content from 80 milligrammes to 50 milligrammes would reduce casualties by about 65 deaths per year.[267]

164. A reduction in the permitted blood alcohol concentration was supported by road safety campaigners and the police.[268] Many witnesses made the argument that a lower limit brought greater clarity and was less likely to lead to drivers attempting to judge the limit.[269] Mr Hughes, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told us: "I still think that is a good idea to bring us in line with the levels identified in other Western European nations as being appropriate."[270] He went on: "I think it brings greater clarity. It reinforces the message that you should not drink and drive, and I think that is the only message that we can try and get out."[271] The Police Federation concurred with this view:

we believe that if the legal limit was aligned to that of the rest of Europe a strong message would be sent that drinking and driving must not be tolerated. There is every reason to believe that with lowering the limit there will be a pro rata impact on people who drink and drive.[272]

165. Despite the broad support for a lower limit, the Government did not include provision for lowering the limit in the recent Road Safety Bill. The Transport Minister did not accept that more lives would be saved if the permitted blood alcohol content were reduced from 80 milligrammes to 50 milligrammes.[273] He stated:

It seems to me obvious that the target for our enforcement, our priority, has to be catching all of the people who are over the 80 micrograms limit and saving the 500 lives before we start diverting police resources to try to catch the 70 or so that are between the 50 and 80 limit.[274]

The Minister told us that reducing the limit would not, through greater clarity, reduce the number of people tempted to drink-drive. He stated: "That is only an opinion. I do not think we have the slightest bit of evidence to suggest that that is the case."[275] The fact that it is the opinion of the most senior police officer in the country with responsibility for roads policing, and also the view of other police associations, should be of some interest to the Minister.


166. We heard that enforcing drug-driving legislation was made more difficult by the legal requirement to prove impairment through the use of drugs, rather than simply the presence of drugs in the driver's body. This is partly because of the complications of including drivers impaired through legal medicines within the legislation. There are also difficulties because some drugs remain in the body long after they have had an impairment effect.[276]

167. The Association of Chief Police Officers has called for a change to the legislation.[277] It stated:

We must consider law changes that remove the burden of proving impairment and encourage the development of the needed technology to establish if drivers are drug abusers or not[…] the current legal framework is inadequate to permit effective enforcement and stimulate new technology development.[278]

Such a change was supported by Brake.[279] The Department for Transport and Home Office indicated a willingness to consider the potential of a change to this requirement. The Transport Minister told us: "The position as it is at the moment, with the state of testing and with the myriad of drugs available that people might be using, is that the sensible measure to use is one of impairment, but it is a debate [...]"[280] The Home Office Minister added: "Government and all of us would be equally intolerant of drug-driving as we are of drunk-driving. The question is how it can be measured […] It is extraordinarily complicated. I too would welcome the debate but it is more complex than the alcohol."[281]

168. It is anomalous that evidence of impairment is required to bring a successful prosecution for driving under the influence of illegal drugs, whereas blood-alcohol levels are sufficient to bring a prosecution for drink-driving. This anomaly will not be easy to rectify given the number of different illegal drugs and the need to establish suitable tests and limits for the presence of each one and the combined impact of several drugs. Nonetheless, we believe that the continuing requirement to prove impairment is an obstacle to the effective policing of the drug-driving problem. We recommend that the Government work in consultation with police services and the appropriate medical experts to identify suitable thresholds and tests for the presence of illegal drugs in a driver's body. At the same time, the Government should bring forward the legislation necessary to enable drivers to be prosecuted on the basis of drug-testing rather than impairment-testing. It may well be that such tests become available for some drugs before others, and a phased move from impairment to drug-testing, starting with the most commonly abused drugs, might be necessary.

169. This leaves the question of those whose ability to drive is impaired through the use of legal medicines. This is a much more vexed area since many medicines will not lead to any impairment, some will invariably lead to impairment, and others might or might not depending on the circumstances. If use of a medicine is likely to result in driver impairment this must be made absolutely clear on the product label. There are also questions surrounding the abuse of legal medicines for recreational purposes. We believe that impairment is still the appropriate test in relation to drivers who are affected by licensed medicines.

220   Mainly as a result of increased enforcement, advertising campaigns and a clear indication from the courts that a conviction for drinking and driving resulted in the loss of the licence. Back

221   DfT Road Casualties Great Britain: 2005 Annual Report Back

222   Ev 51 Back

223   Ev 150 Back

224   Home Office (30.3.06) Motoring Offences and Breath Tests, England and Wales 2004 Supplementary Tables: Table 15, page 45 Back

225   Tunbridge, RJ,Keigan, M,James, FJ (2001) 'The incidence of drugs and alcohol in road accident fatalities' TRL 495 Back

226   Ev 119, 18, 150 Back

227   Ev 18 Back

228   Ev 51, 69, 136, Q185 Back

229   Ev 136 Back

230   Ev 51 Back

231   Ev 136 Back

232   Ibid Back

233   ICF Consulting (2003) Cost benefit analysis of road safety improvements. ICF: London Back

234   Ev 150 Back

235   Q53 Back

236   Q327 Back

237   Ev 18 Back

238   Ev 69 Back

239   Ev 119 Back

240   An evidential breath analyser is used by the police to determine the percentage of alcohol in the breath of a motorist. This can be submitted as evidence in court. Back

241   Ev 101 Back

242   Q61 Back

243   Ev 54 Back

244   Ev 51 Back

245   Q61 Back

246   Ev 51, 1. See paragraph 101 earlier in this report for a discussion of the type approval process. Back

247   Ev 1 Back

248   Ibid Back

249   Q331 Back

250   Ev 51 Back

251   Qq 93, 221, 222, and Ev 69, 85, 22 Back

252   Ev 101 Back

253   This amends section 6 of the Road Traffic Act Back

254   Ev 51 Back

255   Ev 150 Back

256   Ev 124 Back

257   Ibid Back

258   Ev 150 Back

259   Ibid Back

260   Ev 69 Back

261   Ev 1 Back

262   DfT (2006) Monitoring the Effectiveness of the UK Field Impairment Tests: Road Safety Research Report No. 63 Back

263   Ibid Back

264   Association of Chief Police Officers News Release 11 January 2006 (Ref 02/06) Drink and Drug Driving Levels Unacceptable{A38B3B8E-3329-46C1-AE24-C9412E7CCDBB} Back

265   Ev 54, 1 Back

266   Ev 22, 18 Back

267   Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety Research Briefing (2005) 'Reducing the BAC Limit to 50mg-What Can We Expect to Gain? A Fresh Look at Drink-Drive Deaths and Injuries' by Professor Richard E Allsop, Centre for Transport Studies, University College London. Back

268   Ev 119, 51, 65, and Qq 48, 49, 220 Back

269   Qq 48, 49 and Ev 69, 65 Back

270   Q48  Back

271   Q49 Back

272   Ev 65 Back

273   Q332 Back

274   Q332 Back

275   Q333 Back

276   Qq 335, 336 Back

277   Ev 1, Q48 Back

278   Ev 1 Back

279   Ev 22 Back

280   Q335 Back

281   Q336 Back

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Prepared 31 October 2006