So I had to write a piece on drug driving. I've just finished. I'm completely indifferent to it, but it needs to be submitted before I get a chance to see my tutor. If anybody is bored here is something for you to look through. If you could let me know if it makes sense and is vaguely informative that'd be swell (apologies for the poor humour - it had to be "light hearted")
Will We Go Down Under The Influence?
You’ve just spent the last six hours dancing to some German DJ whose name you can’t pronounce but swore had changed your life just two hours ago. Your clothes are weighed down by the now dry (but still very much apparent) sweat that has been pouring from your body, Tabby’s on a comedown and you’ve just remembered withdrawing that extra fifty quid on your credit card. It’s 6.30am and the last thing you want to be doing is relying on public transport to get you home – you want your bed now, not in three hours.
So you drive home. No big deal. The police aren’t exactly out in force at this time of the day and it’s not like you’ve been drinking loads of alcohol. You wouldn’t dream of driving home pissed - you’re not an idiot, after all. And besides, the stuff you’ve been putting away tonight means that your reactions are ten times what they are than when you’re sober!
Granted, it might seem that way. And we all know that people have been driving home from all-nighters even back when your Mum first heard the word ‘rave’ (how else were those cyber kids getting home from barns in Essex?). But all that may well be about to change.
As a society we are constantly being warned of the dangers and shame involved when drinking and stepping foot behind the wheel. It has become the norm for Coronation Street to be interspersed with thirty second clips of people violently smashing into pub tables, all in the name of ‘public service broadcasting’. We know we shouldn’t drink and drive – it’s a given. But what isn’t quite so prevalent are warnings about the serious dangers of drug driving. But how much longer are the government prepared to sweep this under the carpet?
In the last six months new laws have been passed in Australia to allow police to perform completely random spot checks on roads to breathalyse drivers. Police down under need no justification of suspicion to perform the checks, and can carry them out whenever or wherever they please. Authorities there can even go as far as setting up complete road blocks to stop every single car coming down the road at that particular time. Since its inception in the city of Victoria in July 2006, out of 20,000 people stopped around 500 have tested positive. That’s a ratio of roughly one in every fifty drivers.
The technology works by checking for traces of ecstasy, speed or cannabis within a person’s saliva. The driver will be asked to leave their car and provide a sample of saliva, leading to a short test lasting no more than two minutes. If this initial test shows traces of one of the substances, a second check will be carried out. If this check also gives a positive result, the sample will be sent to a laboratory for an independent analysis. By now the chances of the driver getting away with it are slim to say the least, and the results of this third and final test determine whether or not he or she will be prosecuted.
But what if you smoke weed regularly? Will a joint you had last week get you arrested if these random tests make their way over to the UK? Not quite, says Dr Michael Lenne from the Monash University Accident Research Centre. “The tests check for things found in drugs called metabolites. In the case of cannabis, these are detectable through urine samples for up to a month or so. But the roadside tests do not check urine samples, and the metabolite that is detected through blood or saliva testing is only evident in those samples for an hour or two post use”.
So that’s a bonus of sorts. Also, as yet the technology is not yet in place to detect traces of any other drugs. But hold on there, Charlie – don’t get too carried away. Dr Lenne claims that acquiring the necessary technology is “just a matter of time”.
But what does any of this matter? Australia has a somewhat of a reputation for imposing laws that simply would not work here in the UK. Imagine if Tony Blair passed a law that meant you were not allowed to enter a club if the bouncer suspected you had already had a drink? It simply couldn’t happen. You would be right in thinking that our Australian cousins have it tough on certain issues, but it is becoming a very real possibility that these laws could make their way over here before long. Eighteen per cent of drivers who died on the road between 1996 and 2000 did so with traces of illegal substances in their system. Compare that with just three per cent from 1985 to 1988 and you can see that drug driving is becoming a very real issue. A recent survey conducted by the RAC Foundation discovered that twenty per cent of young motorists surveyed admitted to driving under the influence of illegal drugs every single day. With statistics like that, why wouldn’t the government want to enforce new laws to make our roads safer? And that’s not to mention the extra revenue potential of fining one in five of Britain’s young motorists.
Natalie Davison from the British Transport Police confirmed that the developments in Australia were being “closely monitored”. Not quite damning evidence, but enough to suggest that drug driving could start becoming more of an issue within the UK. But how likely is it that some time in the next year you’ll be stumbling out of the Cross to be faced with an eager swab-wielding policeman? Not very, if our government’s tip-toeing attitude to impeaching our civil rights is anything to go by. The British public already see the existence of speed cameras as some kind of intrusion of liberty, so we may have a thing or two to say about being pulled over at random and being asked to spit in a plastic cup. It seems unlikely that Gordon Brown would want to piss people off on a major scale so early on in his tenure.
And even if these laws did make their way over here, would they act as enough of a deterrent? Inspector Martin Boorman - Head of Traffic Alcohol Section Technical Unit, Victoria Police – remains hopeful. “For ninety per cent of the people that we've dealt with so far, it's been their first offence, and therefore they have been issued a penalty notice. But within time we will start identifying the repeat offenders, and then we can start prosecuting and making our roads safer”.
So for the time being, you might just get away with cramming you and your gurning pals into the back of your Fiesta and heading back home for a much needed spliff and huge cold glass of fresh orange juice. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it is still largely undetectable under current UK law. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you…