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In the two years since new drug driving legislation was introduced, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people convicted for drug driving offences in Shropshire, according to new figures.
Convictions for Drug driving in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin between 01/03/2014 and 30/04/2017.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, West Mercia Police revealed that between January and December 2016 there were 198 convictions for drug driving offences, over triple the number between May and December 2015 with 57 convictions.
Between January and April this year alone there have been 102 convictions.
West Mercia Police released figures following a separate Freedom of Information showing that in 2016 the number of people who have been prosecuted for drug driving offences tripled. Between March and December 2015 the total prosecuted totalled 159, rising to 717 in the period January to December 2016. Figures for January to June 2017 show that 525 have been prosecuted.
The drug driving laws were updated on 2 March 2015 which covers legal driving limits for 17 illegal and prescription drugs.
Previously police had to show that driving was impaired to prosecute. The new laws in England and Wales made it an offence to drive after having certain drugs in your blood above prescribed levels.
The minimum driving ban for those caught now stands at 12 months, up to six months in prison, an unlimited fine and a criminal record.
Your driving licence will also show a conviction for drug driving and will remain on there for 11 years.
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Drug Driving Law Enforcement ‘Revolutionised’
The biggest change was the introduction of new roadside drug testing kit which allows police to quickly detect the presence of cannabis and cocaine. They also carry out a ‘field impairment’ test which assesses your ability to walk in a straight line, balance, judge short periods of time and eye pupil size.
Vicki Bristow, Communications Manager at Safer Roads Partnership told JT Hughes that the new legislation and ‘easy-to-use’ technology has allowed officers to test on the side of the road and deal with offenders more quickly.
“Detecting drivers that are willing to risk driving under the influence of drugs is a 24/7 year-round commitment for West Mercia Police,” she added.
“We take part in national campaigns across the year to highlight this issue but officers are trained and equipped to deal with such incidents as part of their regular patrol.”
Neil Greif, Director of Policy and Research at IAM Roadsmart spoke to JT Hughes and said:
“The setting of limits for illegal drugs when driving backed up by roadside and police station testing has revolutionised the enforcement of drug driving laws in recent years. Previously time-consuming blood tests had to be taken by a police surgeon and ‘impairment’ proved.”
“The result has been a big increase in the number of drivers caught, which is good news but also suggests the underlying problem was far bigger than we could ever have guessed.”
Over 50 Percent of Motorists Failing Drug Tests
In another Freedom of Information request, West Mercia Police revealed that that over half of the drivers stopped by police are failing roadside drug tests.
roadside drug test stats.
Between March and December 2015, 583 roadside drug tests were carried out by police with 309 recording a positive result for cannabis, cocaine or joint cannabis and cocaine. Between January and December 2016, police tested 1342 drivers with 700 positive results. From January to April this year, the number stopped was stated as 572 with 329 testing positive.
Does this mean that drug driving is becoming a bigger issue than drink driving?
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bigger problem,” said Vicki Bristow “We’re just seeing more number because we now have the ability to test and the legislation is in place to process these offences more easily than before.”
“They are both a risk and both cause death and serious injury on our roads so both are a priority for us.”
Forensics Tampering Row
West Mercia Police has been caught up in a criminal investigation that has revealed that data relating to 6,000 forensic samples nationwide could have been manipulated.
The testing was carried out by Randox Testing Services (RTS), a laboratory firm that analyses samples in prosecutions such as drug driving, rape and murder. There are concerns that the alleged offence could have led to a miscarriage of justice or will cause problems going ahead with prosecutions.
Nick McCoy, head of forensics for West Mercia Police told Shropshire Star “Along with other police forces across the country we have received a list of affected cases. We are currently carrying out a review of these cases and as such, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Greater Manchester Police announced a criminal investigation into the forensic test results issued by RTS earlier this year. Two employees at Randox, a 47-year-old and a 31-year-old have been arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and released on bail until July 18 and 25th, pending further enquiries.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for the Forensic Marketplace, DCC James Vaughan released a statement saying: “The integrity of forensic science in criminal justice is crucial in the investigation and prosecution of crime and keeping people safe.
“This is a serious breach of the very rigorous professional standards set by the Forensic Science Regulator for staff and organisations working in this critical field.
“We now have a clearer picture of the scale of this data manipulation and have been able to set out a plan of action in partnership with RTS, the Forensic Science Regulator, and the CPS. The numbers affected could change as our investigations progress.
“We are prioritising the most serious and pressing cases but all cases where there could have been an impact on prosecution will be assessed, retested and appropriate action taken.
“It is important that we nationally prioritise retesting of samples to ensure that resubmitted samples do not flood the market and impact on other important ongoing cases.
“While there has been limited retesting to date, the evidence has shown that in the vast majority of cases, the original reporting was accurate.”
Prescription Drugs Warning
Drivers face prosecution if they exceed the limits for eight illegal drugs including cannabis, cocaine, MDMA and Ketamine.
Drivers who take powerful prescription drugs for conditions such as anxiety or for pain relief have also been warned about the new law and will face prosecution if they exceed the limits set for eight prescription drugs.
· Clonazepam to treat anxiety disorders and seizures
· Diazepam to treat muscle spasms, anxiety and alcohol withdrawal symptoms
· Flunitrazepam / Rohypnol a sedative
· Lorazepam to treat seizures or convulsions caused by epilepsy
· Oxazepam for anxiety, including anxiety for alcohol withdrawal
· Temazepam used to treat insomnia
· Methadone for treatment of heroin addiction
· Morphine used to treat moderate to severe pain
Prescribed doses do not exceed the limit for legal drugs which means that most drivers will still be safe to drive.
Some drivers may feel anxious and unsure as to whether they are within the legal limits of the law when it comes to prescription drugs.
Neil Greig assured that “The new legislation built in a defence for any driver using prescription drugs as prescribed by their doctor and so far IAM RoadSmart know of no cases where anyone has had problems proving this.
“If you abuse prescription drugs you can still be prosecuted. The next step is to widen the number of drugs that can be tested for at the roadside as currently only cannabis and heroin are covered.”
“We understand that the equipment is available, it just has to be type approved and rolled out to police forces. Only then will West Mercia Police have all the tools they need to need to tackle the full range of drugs that can increase your risk of crashing.”
Vicki Bristow also suggested that drivers speak to their pharmacists or doctor when prescribed a particular medication to see what their advice is.
The Crackdown Continues
Extra police patrols will be out over the summer to help tackle drink and drug driving on the roads in Shropshire.
The campaign is being highlighted by two hard-hitting videos being promoted across West Mercia on social media. Roadside checks will also be carried out at all times of the day and night and on all types of road.
Over the past three years, 122 people have been killed or seriously injured in West Mercia as a result of collisions involving drink or drugs. According to figures from West Mercia Police, approx 45 percent of drivers involved in collisions causing death or serious injury involving drink or drugs were aged 17-30, of which around 82 percent were male.
Superintendent Daryn Elton for Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police comments: "We are committed to year-round enforcement of offences of driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs, however, we are acutely aware that the summer period can see a rise in these offences. Extra patrols will be conducted over the summer in a bid to tackle those who commit the unacceptable act of drinking or drug driving.
West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police information:
“Worryingly, and despite many warnings over the years about the dangers of drink/drug driving, there are still far too many reckless drivers ignoring the devastating consequences. Alcohol and drugs both affect your ability to judge speed and distances accurately and slow down your reaction time. We're urging people to think hard about the consequences that a collision could lead to."