It’s nice to think that if you don’t take drugs then the government’s proposed drug-driving laws won’t affect you, but of course it’s not quite that simple. For starters, the legislation is planned to include certain prescription drugs such as methadone and morphine as well as recreational substances. But more significant is how it is attempting to get drug drivers off the road.
Official figures suggest that 100 lives a year will be saved by the implementation of the law. As well as prescription medicines, illegal substances such as cannabis, cocaine, LSD and amphetamine are also included in the ban. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
The problem is there’s no magic breathalyser for drugs. If police suspect a driver to be under the influence of drugs, they will examine their eyes for signs of drug taking, and will then demand a field impairment test. That’s the one where you have to stand on one leg, touch your nose, count to 30 and other assorted party tricks. Fail and you can be escorted to the police station where a doctor will administer a blood test.
To me at least, this all sounds like an approximate approach to the issue of drug driving. Unless the police start pulling everyone over to perform a song and dance before an impromptu optometrist test in a layby, you’d have to be driving in a really obvious manner in order to get stopped, tested and caught.
The limits for each drug have also been set at levels which exclude ‘passive consumption’ and ‘accidental exposure’. That sounds like a very simplified approach. In an ideal world the limits would be based on new research into how each drug affects the particular functions required for driving – mind you, the same problem applies to drink driving as the limit hasn’t been changed since it was introduced almost 50 years ago.
In 2012 three times as many people were killed in accidents related to drink driving as drug driving. Despite legislation, government campaigns, the development of breath testing devices used by the Police and now on general sale to the public, and a gradual change in attitudes over the decades, it remains a greater menace and one that needs tackling more urgently.
That’s not to deny the seriousness of drugs, but alcohol is still so fundamentally woven into our culture that it’s only when you step back and take a look do you realise just how entwined it is.
Imagine that every TV ad for beer promoted cannabis, and that every drink served in every pub and every drop of alcohol in your house was replaced by a cannabis joint. Would it seem normal to pop out of the office during your lunch break for a quick toke with your desk buddies, then driving home after work and settling down after dinner for a couple more?
This drug driving legislation means well, but I’d be very surprised if it saw a significant increase in the number of those caught and prosecuted. Meanwhile, the drink drivers will carry on drinking and driving.
Matt Joy is Motoring Editor of BT.com and prefers petroleum fumes as his high of choice.
This article is the opinion of Matt Joy and not necessarily that of BT.