Press release

Specification issued for new drug screening device

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Police forces closer to having equipment to test motorists suspected of drug driving, Home Office Minister James Brokenshire announced.

The Home Office has produced the specification for a new police station-based drug screening device. The document sets out what the device will do and the standards it must meet.

Manufacturers will now submit devices to the Home Office for testing. If the specifications are met, a device could then be approved by the Home Secretary for use by police.

Blood samples

Once a screening device is approved, officers will be able to use it to test if a person has specific levels of a drug in their system and then take a blood sample if the device gives a positive reading.

This will enable suspects to be dealt with quicker, cutting bureaucracy and allowing officers to get back to frontline duties. Currently, a medical examiner must be called out to assess if suspects are impaired because of drugs and authorise a blood sample.

Danger on the road

Crime prevention minister James Brokenshire said: ‘Motorists under the influence of drugs are a danger on the road. We are determined that police have the highest quality devices to help identify them. This specification is a big step towards that goal.

‘Police already have robust powers to test drivers for signs of impairment and this device will make it easier for them to identify the reckless drivers who are putting lives at risk.’

Transport minister quote

Road safety minister Mike Penning said: ‘Drug drivers show a flagrant disregard for the law and put the lives of responsible motorists at risk. This announcement means that we are a step closer to making sure that the Police have the equipment they need to tackle this selfish minority more effectively and make the roads safer for everyone.’

Evidence to support a prosecution for drug driving can only come from a blood specimen.  Currently, an officer can only require a suspect to give a blood specimen if a medical practitioner has been called out and said that the person may be under the influence of drugs. A positive test on an approved drug screener means a blood specimen can be taken straight away without a medical practitioner’s involvement.

The approval process ensures testing equipment is effective and meets the operational needs of police. It also makes sure the results are not susceptible to legal challenge, leading to convictions being overturned.

The potential device will test for a range of drugs including cannabinoids, cocaine, amphetamines, methylamphetamine, methadone and opiates.

Alongside this, the government will continue working with manufacturers to investigate the feasibility of introducing portable drug screening devices which could be used to test drivers for drugs at the roadside.

Notes to editors

1. It is an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a vehicle when unfit to drive through drink or drugs. 

2. The act empowers police to conduct compulsory tests for the presence of a drug that might be causing impairment. Such tests must use a device “of a  type approved by the Secretary of State”.

3. Manufacturers will now have until the end of January to indicate whether they are interested in building a screening device that meets the Home Office specification. Testing of the devices will begin in February.

  1. A Small Business Research Initiative, co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Home Office and Department for Transport, has provided three six month contracts, focused on developing a multi-drug detection device for use by police in the police station. The three successful applicants were National Physical Laboratory in collaboration with Mass Spec Analytical Ltd. and King’s College London, Oxtox Ltd. and Randox Laboratories.

  2. For more information contact the Home Office press office on 020 7035 3535.