The government has announced plans to address the “underestimated social problem” of driving while under the influence of drugs. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says he wants to introduce reforms to the law in a bid to make drug-driving “as much of a social taboo” as drink-driving.

According to the government, there has been an increase in drug-driving offences in recent years, with more than 12,000 people convicted in 2019. And 713 people were seriously injured in drug-driving collisions in 2020, up from 499 in 2016. Almost half (44 percent) of offences were committed by reoffenders.

At present, those convicted of drug-driving receive a driving ban, prison sentence or a fine by the courts. However, unlike those convicted of drink-driving, drug-driving offenders are not required to complete rehabilitation courses before they start driving again.

Man taking drugs before driving his car

Now, though, the government wants drug-drivers to undergo rehabilitation courses in an attempt to prevent reoffending. The Department for Transport (DfT) says those who do not attend drink-driving rehabilitation courses are more than twice as likely to commit a new drink-driving offence within three years. By offering high-risk drug-driving offenders similar courses, the government hopes the number of repeat offenders will fall.

The government is putting the proposals through a consultation, which will also ask whether the UK should bring the way suspected drug-drivers’ blood specimens are taken in line with current medical practice. The proposal to use vacuum blood extraction is being mooted to decrease the risk of healthcare professionals contracting blood-borne viruses. It will also seek views on the use of medicinal cannabis while driving.

Halifax police begin pilot project testing drugged drivers

“Drink-driving is now rightly seen as a social taboo by most of us in this country and we have worked hard to drive down drink-drive related deaths,” said Shapps. “But, if we are to make our roads safer still, there is no room to be lax on drug-driving, which is why I have launched this call for evidence. It’s only right that drug-drivers must undergo rehabilitation before getting back behind the wheel, helping protect the public from this hidden problem and stamping out drug-driving for good.”

The RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said the proposals were a welcome measure to improve road safety.

“Drug-driving ruins lives and threatens the safety of all road users,” he said. “We welcome proposals to offer drug-driving offenders rehabilitation courses, in the same way those caught drink-driving are offered them, because the evidence shows this helps to reduce reoffending and improves road safety.”