Roadside drug testing devices similar to breathalysers could be introduced in Britain within two years.
Ministers are determined to combat the menace of drug driving, which is thought to play a part in up to half of all UK road accidents and deaths.
Moves to bring in ‘drug analysers’ for roadside tests on drivers have been hampered by poor technology.
But now the manufacturers of the road side drug testing analysers claim that the technology available has caught up with the demand for such systems.
The Home Office recently confirmed that the laws for road side drug testing would be put in place ‘at the earliest opportunity’ – possibly later this year.
Road safety experts fear many younger motorists who often regard drink driving as unacceptable often have no such qualms about driving after taking illegal drugs. However, a small amount of drugs such as one marijuana joint can impair driving ability as much as five pints of beer.
One hand-held drug-testing machine being operated by police in custody suites uses saliva swabs to detect within ten minutes the presence of drugs including cannabis, heroin, cocaine and amphetamines.
Police in Victoria, Australia, have launched trials of the system this week, while similar equipment is already in use in Finland and is being tested in Italy.
British police who stop a driver suspected of taking drugs currently have to rely on ‘field impairment tests’ such as checking the driver’s pupils and making them stand on one leg, close their eyes, tilt their head back and touch their nose with their finger – similar to drink-driving tests before the days of breathalysers.
Alternatively, suspected drug-drivers can have blood or urine samples taken at police stations.
But results can take weeks, and failing to give a sample is not yet an offence, as it is with drink-driving.
Official figures show that the proportion of people killed in road accidents and found to have illegal drugs in their blood raised from 3 per cent in 1988 to 18 per cent in 1998.
A report from Durham Police found that 13 of the 23 people killed on the county’s roads this year showed traces of cocaine, Ecstasy, cannabis or prescription drugs which could seriously impair driving abilities.
Legislation on roadside drug-testing is unlikely to face significant opposition in parliament, and if the technology can be fine-tuned quickly then it could be introduced nationwide within two years, insiders claimed.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘ We’re well aware of the need to improve the way drug-driving is identified so existing laws can be used more effectively.’
An AlphaBiolabs spokesperson said ‘we welcome the introduction of road side drug testing; anything which makes the roads safer and reduces death’s has to be a positive thing’.
‘One thing to consider is that the technology cannot be as stringent as a hair drug test and we expect that many of the people who the police wish to prosecute for drug driving will demand a more comprehensive test from an accredited laboratory such as AlphaBiolabs if they are contesting the results of the road side drug test’.
‘This is likely to have a negative effect on the court system as a time the Government is making cuts to the legal aid system’.
AlphaBiolabs offers legal drug testing to members of the public, the legal profession and local authorities for use in UK courts of law.