Pubdate: Sun, 10 Oct 1999
Source: Mail on Sunday, The (UK)
Author: Chester Stern, Crime Correspondent


Drug-using motorists could soon face stiffer penalties than drunk drivers
with courts and police demanding a zero-tolerance policy.

Police are blaming an alarming increase in accidents and road rage
incidents on drugs and the Magistrates' Association wants the new
Government to create a new offence to complement the campaign against

But, unlike drinks-related charges, there would be no safe or unsafe
levels. Automatic bans would follow any traces of drugs in a driver's
blood, with only the length of the ban determined by the class and amount
of the drug.

The move is backed by the Police Superintendents' Association. 'We have to
tackle this problem to save the lives of both the abusers and the victims,'
said national president Chief Superintendent Peter Gammon. 'A huge
proportion of people in accidents have drugs in their bodies.'

Thw woman behind the campaign is Bournemouth magistrate Hilda Brownlow,
chairman of the Dorset Youth Courts. She said: 'Thousands of people in the
past year have been passengers in cars driven by somebody under the
influence of drugs. I am amazed all this has gone unchecked.'

Because doctors have difficulty proving how much drugs impair a driver's
ability, the law against driving under the influence of drugs is seldom
applied. Mrs Brownlow, a JP for 20 years, has not heard of a single

Now she is calling on her 30,000 fellow JPs to campaign for the new law.
She is backed by Stevenage JP Melvyn Hoffman, who also has never dealt with
a charge for driving under the influence of drugs. He said drugged drivers
should be banned because, as well as being potential killers, they are
contributing to the upsurge in road rage.

'One of the side-effects of drugs is the loss of rational thought and an
off-shoot of this is loss of temper,' he said.

Mr Hoffman, a Customs officer at Luton Airport, is currently investigating
a potential roadside device - using a light pointed into a driver's eyes to
detect drugs in the system - which could provide evidence on which to take
the driver to a police station for further tests. Another prototype device
analyses sweat for traces of drugs. At present, police have to judge drug
usage only by a driver's behaviour.

Mr Hoffman said that because of possible confusion with legitimately
prescribed drugs, motorists should carry cards signed by a doctor
specifying what drugs they take. If they failed to produce the card they
would have five days to do so at a police station.

When the Magistrates' Association meets to vote on the proposed new law at
Guildhall in London on October 30 there is bound to be a backlash from some
JPs who support the legalisation of cannabis.
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