Police Federation

Drug related fatalities have increased over time

29 September 2021

Forensic toxicology requests in relation to roads policing essentially deals with just two drugs and the majority involves cocaine and cannabis.

The CPD-approved session ‘Safer Roads – drug driving’, at PFEW’s Virtual Roads Policing Conference 2021, was told by Consultant Forensic Toxicologist Dr Simon Elliott that ‘our entire forensic toxicology system is really dealing with two drugs.’

Dr Elliot was appearing as a panellist alongside David Davies, Executive Director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, Prof Max Cameron from Monash University Accident Research Centre, Australia, Professor Kim Wolff from King’s College, London, David Davies, Executive Director of Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and David Snelling, Policy Team Leader at the Department of Transport.

Dr Elliott explained how legislation changes in the last six years have seen ‘a sea change in how forensic toxicology has been used within policing.’

He added: “This is to the extent that 80 per cent of all forensic toxicology requests are in relation to roads policing, and that includes drugs and alcohol.

“Of this 80 per cent of all of submissions are specifically related to drugs. Nearly three-quarters of all cases where drugs are detected involve cannabis or cocaine.

“If you put that into context, our entire forensic toxicology system is really dealing with two drugs – cannabis and cocaine.”

Professor Wolff, who is investigating synthetic oral fluid for evidential drug driving offences said she was very interested in alternative matrices for evidential testing in different populations.

She added: “We are working very closely with the Department of Transport on a high-risk offender scheme for drug drivers

“There is an existing scheme for high level offenders for drink driving – this takes serious offenders off the roads and requires them to be assessed for their level of drinking. We think there should be a similar scheme to sit alongside that specifically for drug drivers.”

David Davies from the Advisory Council for Transport Safety – which works closely in partnership with PFEW - highlighted key road safety issues.

But he said: “Drug related fatalities have increased over time. There are about 250 drink drive casualties every year – what we don’t know yet is the same for drugs.

“It is still an issue to know just how much the incidents of drug driving are growing. We still don’t have a good indication just how much impact this is having on death and injury. It’s certainly worrying.

“What we are lacking is data from the number of roadside tests. There appear to be Forces which are not doing the same levels of enforcement, and we would encourage a levelling up.”

David Snelling, from the Department of Transport, said any form of driving under the influence of drink or drugs is unacceptable and a serious road safety issue.

He said: “It is committed to tacking the issue of drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs and ensuring all such drivers are caught and punished.

“We have a combined approach of tough penalties and rigorous enforcement. If a new law is required, then a public consultation must be held.”

In a highly illuminating segment, Prof Max Cameron explained how the Australian approach to drug testing was originally initiated in Victoria, and the rate of Prelimary Oral Fluid Testing (POFTs) rose dramatically from 42,000 to 100,000 inside a decade.

He said: “Australia has had a long history of random drug testing, and the presence of Methamphetamine has increased – which contrasts to the levelling of THC (the main active ingredient of cannabis) being present in killed drivers.

“However, we estimate that testing prevents 33 fatal crashes and at least 80 serious injury crashes per year in Victoria.”

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