Targeting the drug-drivers

The message about drink-driving has been hard-hitting, but successful over recent years. Society does not tolerate drink-driving. However, the drinkers are being replaced with a new breed of driver who gets behind the wheel under the influence of drugs. A

The message about drink-driving has been hard-hitting, but successful over recent years. Society does not tolerate drink-driving. However, the drinkers are being replaced with a new breed of driver who gets behind the wheel under the influence of drugs. ANDREW McGILL went to the launch of a new crackdown by Cambridgeshire police to find out how the problem is being tackled.

THE number of motorists caught driving under the influence in Cambridgeshire this summer dropped by a half.

The annual summer drink and drug driving campaign caught 57 people this year - down from 129 motorists in 2006.

Cambridgeshire police obviously wants to reduce the figure even further, but is also having to fight another battle on our roads: drugs.

"There is no leeway with drug driving," said Pc Tony Barrios, casualty reduction officer for Cambridgeshire police. "If your driving is impaired and you have drugs in your system, you will lose your licence and could go to prison."

More than 100 officers in Cambridgeshire have been specially trained to administer roadside drug-driving tests to combat the problem.

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How do these work? I was about to find out.

First, the officer checks the pupils of the suspect using a card for comparison. Drug users can often have dilated or constricted pupils, or the eye can be bloodshot.

Next, the driver is instructed to follow the officer's pen with their eyes, and without moving their head.

This test, Pc Barrios explains, can identify cannabis users, whose pupils may dart to one side after returning to its resting position.

Following a basic check for balance, the next test is to count to 30 seconds with eyes closed and head tilted back.

Pc Barrios said: "When conducting this test recently a suspect began counting but stopped after only five seconds.

"It turned out he had a cocktail of drugs in his system but it was still incredible to see how distorted his sense of time was.

"I had only just glanced at the clock to begin the test when he declared 30 seconds was up."

Next was the task of taking nine steps, heel-to-toe, in a straight line - simple enough for an unimpaired driver, but not so easy when under the influence.

I steadied myself and completed the task with no difficulty, but then Pc Barrios produced a pair of 'drug goggles' for me to wear.

These distorted my vision and meant that I could not see my feet clearly as I attempted to take the steps.

My head began to spin as the disorientating nature of not being able to see clearly took effect and I failed the test. Not once did I manage to take a heel-to-toe step, even as I tried to use my arms for balance.

Standing on one leg and touching your nose might seem simple tasks but many drug users will struggle with them, Pc Barrios said.

"The main area where people will fail the tests is in not following the simple instructions.

"Driving after taking drugs is extremely dangerous as the narcotics can severely affect the person's perception of the world around them."

Police may administer drug-driving tests to any motorist whose driving they suspect is being impaired - a traffic misdemeanour as simple as straying over a white line can result in being stopped. The penalty for drug-driving is a minimum one-year driving ban, fine of up to £5,000 and six months in prison.

Pc Barrios said: "The message is simple - do not drive while impaired.

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