An investigation by the BBC has shown that, since new legislation two years ago, there are “major inconsistencies” in the number of drug driving arrests in England and Wales, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) says this points to a “worrying” pattern of enforcement.
Police Chiefs have responded saying that forces must make their own decisions and prioritise accordingly and that some forces share resources, which may affect the figures.
The law was changed in March 2015 to specify that driving under the influence of drugs was a specific offence, like drink driving. This meant that police no longer had to prove that a driver under the influence had their ability impaired. They simply had to show that drivers had more than a certain amount of one of 17 types of drug in their system.
Eight of these drugs are illegal, such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. The other nine are prescription medications such as codeine or methadone.
The BBC asked 43 forces across the country for information on how many drug driving arrests had been made, of which 43 returned usable data. THe difference between the numbers returned was significant, where some forces made thousands of arrests and in some cases, fewer than one hundred arrests were made.
Police forces are not all the same size, however, so the figures were adjusted to account for the number of officers, which equated in around half of the cases to one arrest per one, two, three, or four officers. For nine forces it equated to one arrest for every ten or more officers.
The BBC notes that these figures should be treated with caution as there may be inaccuracies, and comparisons between forces don’t account for the prevalence of drug driving in any given area.
The impact of drug driving cannot be underestimated. Aiden Platt was 20 when he was knocked off his motorbike by a drug driver near his home in Devon. His younger brother Callum, then 17, now 19, says he was “crushed” by Aiden’s death.
“Everyone struggled. We were all devastated by what happened.
“You can’t comprehend it, you can’t think about it, you can’t plan for it.”
“What was easy [in daily life] became impossible,” he explained.
His parents, who were on holiday at the time of the accident, were also hit hard. Callum says his mum is struggling to come to terms with the events.
“I can’t describe what she’s going through. She’s the most amazing mum in the world and she gave everything up for us.
“All that she wanted in return was to see that we were happy growing up. And that’s been taken away from her by someone who was on drugs who shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing.”
PC Neil Jones of Cheshire Police believes roadside test kits are the best advance in years in the battle against drivers under the influence of drugs.
“I think they are the single, best piece of technology that’s been introduced into the police force in 17 years.” he said.
“They are a simple, cheap, and effective piece of equipment that allows us to see a multitude of offences.”
Zoe Billingham from HMIC says the figures indicate there are “major inconsistencies” in the way police forces deal with drug driving across England and Wales.
“Some forces appear to be proactive in enforcing the drug driving laws, while others are not,” she told the BBC.
“HMIC has found similar worrying inconsistencies in other areas of policing that we have formally inspected.
“Recognising the vast range of demands on police time, chief constables should look closely at this data and decide whether this important issue of road safety is being prioritised appropriately in their force.
“This data is only one snapshot” of the wider issue of enforcing drug driving, she added.
The National Police Chiefs Council said: “Drug driving is an offence all forces take seriously, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
“Individual forces make decisions about local priorities and how best to balance their demand and resourcing in order to keep the public safe.
“Some neighbouring forces might share resources to meet demand and each will have different approaches to reducing casualties on the road, depending on the risk they face.
“This means simply dividing officer numbers by arrests cannot possibly provide an accurate ‘like for like’ comparison.”
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