Pubdate: Sun, 16 Oct 2005
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Dipesh Gadher, Transport Correspondent


POLICE are to carry out trials of a roadside detector to combat the
growing menace of drug-driving. Government scientists are developing a
portable device capable of screening motorists for traces of all
illegal substances.

Trials of the electronic "drugalyser" could take place before next
summer, paving the way for one of the biggest clampdowns on dangerous
driving since alcohol breath tests were introduced in the 1960s.

More than one in seven drivers stopped during a recent road safety
campaign later tested positive for drugs - twice as many as those who
were found to be drinking.

Research from the RAC Foundation has also found that young people are
now twice as likely to have been driven by someone high on drugs than
someone over the drink-drive limit.

At the moment police can pull over motorists on suspicion of
drug-driving, but can arrest them only if they fail relatively
imprecise physical and mental impairment tests.

The new test, which is being overseen by the Home Office's scientific
development branch, will speed up detection.

A motorist suspected of driving under the influence of drugs will have
to submit a saliva sample that will be placed on a chemical slide and
"read" by a laser. The device will detect any drugs within seconds and
display the results on a screen.

If banned substances are found, the motorist will be required to go to
a police station and take a blood test.

Ministers are unlikely to set a drug-drive "limit" because they
believe there is no such thing as a safe level. Instead, the
drugalyser will analyse the saliva against a "cut-off" level for the
drugs involved.

Specifications for the drugalyser are expected to be agreed early next
year. The device will be tested for six months, including a likely
field trial involving at least one police force.

The Home Office said: "We currently expect that suitable products will
be on the market by the end of 2006."

One company, Oxfordshire-based Cozart Bioscience, has developed a
roadside drug test which is now being used by police in Italy.

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said:
"Drug-driving is rapidly becoming a bigger problem than drink-driving,
particularly among young motorists who don't see it as a stigma."

The Transport Research Laboratory has found that 18% of drivers who
died on the roads between 1996 and 2000 had illegal drugs in their
system, compared with 3% in 1985-88.

Drug-drivers face the same penalties as those caught over the
drink-drive limit. 
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