Drug Driving

Drug Driving


  • Driving while impaired by drugs is thought to be a major contributor to death and injury on the roads. However, the evidence associated with the prevalence of drug driving in the UK is weak. STATS 19 data collected by the police includes a contributory factor of ‘driver/rider impaired by drugs (illicit or medicinal)’ but may be under-reported (Department for Transport, 2013).

  • The police acknowledge that the extent of drug driving is unknown. A number of common findings on drug driving in Great Britain are outlined in a review of evidence submitted to the North Review Team, drawing together a number of data sources (Jackson & Hilditch, 2010). Cannabis is the most prevalent drug with the use of cocaine increasing since the 1990s. ‘Legal highs’ have also been identified as an emerging issue, but evidence of the effect they may have, or whether they are being used whilst driving, is limited.

  • A few studies have identified the prevalence of drugs in road user fatalities in Great Britain by analysing HM Coroners’ data. The findings show that there has been an increase in illicit and medicinal drug use in fatalities. Cannabis was the most frequently detected drug in drivers and motorcyclists (Everest et al., 1989; Elliot et al., 2009; Tunbridge et al., 2001).

  • Because of the lack of specific information associated with drug driving and riding in Great Britain, it is useful to identify drug use in the general population. National household surveys provide data on drug use and show that the main drug used is cannabis, but cocaine has recently increased in prevalence (Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2013).

  • The proportion of drug drivers across Europe has increased, and consumption alongside other psychoactive substances has become more frequent (Schulze et al., 2012).

  • The role of medicines in UK road accidents is unclear, due to the lack of robust studies (The North Report, 2010).

  • Drugs act on the central nervous system and impair many functions associated with individuals’ abilities to drive safely. Information on specific effects of drugs on driving has been found combining laboratory behavioural studies, on-road driving studies and epidemiological studies (The North Report, 2010).

  • There is limited evidence determining the attitudes and behaviours of drug drivers. Some qualitative evidence is available from Great Britain and large European projects outlining key attitudes and behaviours (Hopkin et al., 2010; Klemenjak et al., 2005; Schulze et al., 2012).

  • There is some evidence from Finland to suggest a link with those driving under the influence of drugs being involved in other criminal activity (Impinen & Lillsunde, 2013). Although we cannot be certain that the same link exists in the UK (due to there being no equivalent data from the UK), it seems plausible.

  • The main countermeasures associated with drug driving are legislation, enforcement, education and campaigns. The role of healthcare professionals is vital in managing the risk of drivers impaired by medicine (The North Report, 2010).

  • Large scale European projects (IMMORTAL, DRUID) have identified a number of countermeasures based on formal theory (Klemenjak et al., 2005; Schulze et al., 2012). However the review of research found very few evaluations that had been undertaken. There is a lack of evidence showing the effectiveness of interventions addressing the risk of drug driving.

  • The government has provided a response to The North Report that outlined 23 recommendations to the Department for Transport on the drug driving law. The Department for Transport agreed in principle with the proposals and is in the process of implementing a number of the recommendations (Secretary of State for Transport, 2011).

  • The recent consultation of drug driving law by the Government proposed several options. Option 1 is preferred and includes a zero tolerance approach to eight controlled drugs that impair driving (e.g. cannabis). Option 2 details limits for 15 controlled drugs following an expert panel’s recommendation. Option 3 proposes a zero tolerance approach for 16 controlled drugs. The results from this consultation are pending (Department for Transport, 2013).

  • In Great Britain the main roadside tool used to detect drug driving is the Field Impairment Test carried out by the police. However, evidence for the extent to which the test is used, and its effectiveness, is limited (Jackson & Hilditch, 2010).

  • There are inconsistencies with the accuracy of the labelling of drugs providing warnings about drowsiness and dosage. It has been suggested that Great Britain introduce a standard symbol warning of drowsiness (The North Report, 2010).

  • A number of evidence gaps have been highlighted following the review of drug driving and riding. This includes the prevalence and emerging patterns of drug driving in Great Britain, attitudes and behaviours of drug drivers and effective interventions to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities associated with drug driving.


  • Date Added: 03 Apr 2012, 08:10 AM
  • Last Update: 26 Jan 2017, 04:07 PM