The Scale of the Problem

The size of the problem is not really known. In the United Kingdom in 1997, more than 860,000 breath tests for alcohol were conducted, with a refusal (presumed positive) rate of 12% (103,000) (D. Rowe, DETR, personal communication, 1999). During the same period, the Forensic Science Service (FSS) dealt with only 1850 drugs/driving submissions. In a 2-weeks period in August 1996, the FSS received 270 blood specimens for testing for driving with excess alcohol. Further examination revealed that 18% contained one or more drugs, and of those that fell below the legal alcohol limit, a further 18% were positive for drugs. If this 18% figure were applied to those 103,000 cases in 1997, more than 18,000 cases would have been identified in which drivers had drugs in their body (65).

In October 1999, the UK Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions completed a 3-years study into the incidence of drugs in road accident fatalities (66). There were a total of 1138 road user fatalities, including drivers, riders of two-wheeled vehicles (34 of them cyclists), passengers in vehicles, and pedestrians; more than 6% tested positive for medicinal drugs, 18% for illicit drugs (mainly cannabis), and 12% for alcohol.

In this study, urine was tested by immunoassay for the following drugs: alcohol, amphetamines, methyl amphetamines (including ecstasy), cannabis, cocaine, opiates, methadone, lysergic acid diethylamide, benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants. The incidence of medicinal drugs likely to affect driving had not significantly changed from the 1985-1987 study (67). However, illicit drug taking in drivers had increased sixfold in percentage terms, and there was a comparable increase among passengers. In addition, an in-

Table 3

Type of Drug Detected in Samples Submitted to the FSS in 1997

Amphetamine 13% Methylamphetamine

Cannabis 28% Cocaine

Opiates 16% Methadone

Benzodiazepines 24% Others

creasing number had taken more than one illicit drug. In 1997, drugs were detected in approx 90% of samples submitted to the UK FSS for analysis (Table 3).

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