I have today (21 March 2011) placed in the library of the House the government’s response to a report by Sir Peter North on drink and drug driving which was published in June 2010. This response also covers a report by the Transport Select Committee which was published in December 2010. The government’s response is available on the department’s website.
The government is committed to improving road safety. It is a priority to deter driving when unfit through drugs or alcohol, and to ensure that those who persist in this dangerous behaviour are detected and punished effectively. We must protect law-abiding road users with measures that are effective and proportionate, concentrating on those who are a danger to themselves and other road users, while avoiding unnecessary social and economic impacts.
We are convinced that our first priority must be to give the police the means to identify drug drivers and compel them to give evidential samples for testing. It is just as dangerous for people to drive impaired by alcohol or drugs, and it is quite wrong that it is easier at present to get away with one than the other. There needs to be a clear message that drug drivers are as likely to be caught and punished as drink drivers and that drug driving is as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
We have taken the first steps to address this with a specification for drug testing equipment for the police. We aim to have this available for use later this year. We will - as Sir Peter suggested - examine the case for a new specific offence which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected. The introduction of fixed thresholds for blood-alcohol as the test for drink driving has delivered benefits to road safety that are clear for all to see.
Our strategy is to focus resources and any legislative changes on measures which will have the most impact in reducing dangerous behaviours. There are therefore 2 main priorities:
- to continue the successful abatement of drink driving and achieve similar success against drug driving by giving the police effective tools to identify and proceed against drink and drug drivers
- to streamline the enforcement process for drink and drug driving to remove pressure on police and other enforcement resources
A staggering proportion of drink drivers are well over the current limit - 40% of those caught by the police are 2.5 times the limit. The proportion of drivers over the limit who are killed is the same. Their behaviour is entrenched and displays a flagrant disregard for the law and the safety of other road users. We have concluded that improving enforcement is likely to have most impact on these dangerous people, and will therefore be the most effective use of scarce resources, rather than lowering the prescribed alcohol limit for driving.
We will implement the following measures, bringing forward legislation where necessary at the earliest opportunity :
- revoke the right to opt for a blood test when the evidential breath test result is less than 40% over the limit (the ‘statutory option’) as this causes delay which results in some offenders avoiding prosecution
- streamline the procedure for testing drink drivers in hospital
- close a loophole used by high risk offenders to delay their medical examinations
- require drink drivers who are substantially in excess of the limit to take remedial training and a linked driving assessment - as well as a medical examination - before recovering their licence
- re-launch the drink drive rehabilitation scheme under which drink drivers can get the period of their driving disqualification reduced if they complete an approved training course
- approve portable evidential breath testing equipment for the police -and provide for preliminary testing not to be required where evidential testing can be undertaken away from the police station
- approve preliminary drug-testing equipment, initially for use in police stations - and at the roadside as soon as possible
- delegate to custody nurses the assessment police doctors are now required to make of suspected drug-drivers
Full impact assessments, including among other things the potential impacts on enforcement and the judicial system, will be prepared in the usual way when legislation is brought forward.