One in five Brits admit to drug-driving

Posted on August 5th, 2013 by James Luckhurst

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 10.07.44New research reveals shocking numbers of UK motorists are drug-driving yet just a fraction are being caught.  New research released today  reveals that one in five British drivers (19%) admit to having driven under the influence of drugs. This is at odds with official data obtained from Police Forces across the UK, which shows that only 1,132 people were caught drug driving in 2012, down by 12.5% from 2011 (1,294 arrests).

This worrying disparity between those who admit to drug-driving and those actually being caught suggests the need for more drug testing on British roads. Of those who admit to using drugs whilst behind the wheel, 7% were under the influence of illegal drugs and 12% were using prescription drugs. Drugs recorded by Police include class A-C drugs such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, ketamine and prescription medication such as morphine and codeine.

Cannabis is the most common illegal drug that people admit to using when driving under the influence (18%), with a further one in ten (10%) admitting to getting behind the wheel having used dangerous class A substances such as cocaine, MDMA and amphetamines. Worryingly, of those who have been convicted, more than half have been caught twice (56%), and one in five (21%) have offended three times or more. And it’s young drivers who are the worst offenders, with 18-24 year olds the most likely to get behind the wheel when using drugs (25%).

More than a quarter of people (27%) admit to knowing someone who has driven under the influence of drugs, and one in ten (12%) have been in a car being driven by someone who they suspected had taken drugs. Of those who admit to driving under the influence of drugs, the majority were taking prescription rather than illegal drugs (12% vs 7%). Whilst public awareness is higher around drink driving, the effects of drugs on people’s driving ability are not as well known.

People across the UK regularly take prescription and over the counter drugs such as anti-depressants, painkillers, antihistamines and cough mixtures, all of which can have a sedative effect, yet most of these people probably think it’s totally safe for them to drive. One in ten people (9%) admit to never reading the advice leaflet when taking medication to see if they could suffer from possible side effects, such as drowsiness and/or tiredness, which could make it unsafe for them to drive.  One third of people (33%) say that they’ve felt ill after taking prescription or over the counter medication, and of these a fifth (20%) have gone on to get behind the wheel of a car.

The nation as a whole appears to feel strongly about drug driving, with nearly three quarters of British people (72%) calling for harsher penalties for those caught driving under the influence of drugs. However, a quarter (25%) believe that penalties should be less severe for people caught driving under the influence of prescription drugs who have certain illnesses that require them to take medication.

Despite drug-driving being a major problem for UK road users, some may think the Government have been slow to act. Plans to make it easier to prosecute people who drive under the influence of illegal drugs in England and Wales have only recently been unveiled. Prosecutions are to begin using newly approved ‘drugalysers’, which will measure at the roadside whether limits have been exceeded. The new system will analyse mouth swabs for traces of cannabis, but currently there is no form of roadside testing for other dangerous substances, which may explain why so few drug-drivers using other substances are being caught by police.

For those potentially lethal drug-drivers who are caught, they could face a 12-month ban, six months’ jail and up to a £5,000 fine under Britain’s first ever official drug-drive limits coming into force next year.

Their research was conducted for