Pubdate: Sun, 18 Jan 2004
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2004 The Observer
Author: Gaby Hinsliff, Chief Political Correspondent


Roadside drug tests for drivers have been shelved for at least two years 
because of fears that they are unreliable. Police have reverted to asking 
motorists to walk a straight line or stand on one leg.

Trials of sophisticated breathalyser-style kits, supposed to detect traces 
of illegal drugs in bodily fluids such as saliva, have led to people on 
ordinary medication, such as heart drugs, being wrongly identified as 
having taken illegal drugs.

The Home Office will now introduce compulsory American-style 'sobriety 
tests' - making suspects touch a finger to their nose, walk heel to toe 
along the road in a straight line, stand on one leg or count silently to 30 
- - later this year, MPs were told last week. At present the tests are not 

The Labour MP Laura Moffatt, a former nurse and member of the all-party 
group on drug misuse, warned that introducing chemical testing kits too 
soon would backfire.

'We got it right with breath testing, but this is challengeable,' she said. 
'The Home Office is right to be cautious about it.'

Calls for a crackdown on drugged drivers have risen with the growth in 
cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy use, particularly among young people. Last 
week a 24-year-old man was jailed for seven years for killing schoolgirl 
Laura Swadkins when he lost control of his car while high on amphetamines.

Caroline Flint, a Home Office Minister, told MPs last week that it would be 
2006 before any of the more hi-tech drug-testing kits - originally supposed 
to be ready by 2002 - were likely to be approved.

Richard Brumstrom, chief constable of North Wales, said yesterday reliable 
testing kits would still be needed in the end. 'There is a real need to 
develop a device that can assist operational police officers in the 
detection of drug driving,' he said.

A recent survey found up to one in 20 drivers were under the influence of 
drugs, while up to one in four road accidents involve their use.

While cannabis can slow a driver's reactions, drugs such as cocaine may 
encourage risk-taking. Although there is evidence of US fighter pilots 
taking amphetamines to improve their reaction speed, such substances can 
also affect peripheral focus - important for drivers who come across 
unexpected situations.
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