Drug-impaired driving has become more prevalent than drink-driving, a shocking police report reveals today.
An average of 80 motorists are caught every day, but many may escape justice due to delays in processing blood tests.
And for the first time since driving under the influence was made a criminal offense in 2015, the number of prosecutions has dropped. The National Police Chiefs Council report found that:
- Drivers can be fired because it takes four to five months to process test results and officers have only six months to process;
- They are powerless to keep suspected drug smugglers off the road while they wait for results and one was caught eight other times in the intervening period;
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- Some police chiefs are telling officers to focus on drink driving due to forensic delays and cost concerns;
- Laboratory delays have caused some forces to cancel compliance campaigns;
- Police are considering making convicted motorists pay the average £500 bill to process their evidence.
Police chiefs are calling for harsher sentences and say the scale of the problem is hidden because officers are discouraged from taking drug and alcohol tests.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that, after six years of increased prosecutions, drug trafficking cases have decreased by 36%, from 27,962 in 2021 to 17,835 last year.
At the same time, police have taken more drunk drivers to court, with prosecutions rising 16 percent from 2020 to 33,099 cases last year.
But the NPCC report compiled after the first formal national operation to tackle drug-driving concluded that it was “more prevalent across the UK than drink-driving”.
It warns: ‘Police forces have expressed that the sentence is not strict enough, for example, if a higher dose of drugs is identified in the driver’s sample, the sentence is rarely any different than a standard 12-month ban.
‘The forces have also stated that when they presented both charges to the magistrates (alcohol and drugs) the sentence has not yet been increased. This results in forces testing motorists for drugs or alcohol, not both. This leads to unreliable and skewed results and prevents an accurate reflection of this problem from being identified across the country.”
The document sets out in detail the ‘challenges that hinder drug-driving law enforcement activity’.
Last year’s six-week nationwide crackdown, dubbed Operation Limit, saw an 18 percent increase in drink and drug driving arrests with 6,130 drivers caught compared to 5,186 in the same period in 2021.
On average, 80 drugged motorists were caught every day during the operation, but some of them may never face charges. Anyone who fails a roadside drug test must have their blood taken from a ‘health care provider’.
But it can take hours before staff are available, by which time the drugs may have left the driver’s system. Even when a sample is taken on time, the report reveals that it takes “at least four to five months” for blood tests to come back.
The delay means some drivers are on the roads for months after testing positive for drugs and the results may come too late for a prosecution within the six-month time frame for cases heard in magistrates’ courts.
Another issue raised in the report is the “significant increase in costs” of blood tests. Experts estimate the bill for prosecuting one to be around £500, compared to 20p for a simple roadside breathalyzer test. Police are now asking the Home Office to consider forcing convicted motorists to pay.
Ean Lewin of DTec International, which supplies roadside drug tests to all forces, said: “This report highlights the increasing risk to drug drivers and how specialist roadside police officers need a more efficient and speedy prosecution system. “.
‘More specialist officers are required, a faster saliva confirmation option for cannabis and cocaine could be taken at the roadside, processed in the laboratory and completed in a matter of days. This would mean a court appearance next week.
An NPCC spokesperson said: ‘There are costs associated with forensic analysis of this crime like many others and in recent years there has been pressure on the analysis capacity available to police forces, leading to some delays.
“However, due to the positive and proactive engagement between the NPCC and testing providers, we have now reached a position where there is significant capacity available.”