Road Policing duo issue warning about drug driving and becoming 'desensitised to the risk'

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“Nobody holds a gun and forgets it is dangerous, but for some reason people do when they control vehicles”

Road Policing Officers have shared their experiences of dealing with drug drivers – highlighting the offence which “has caused countless victims”.

PC David Millican and Sgt Helen Kumar from Lincolnshire Police talk about the fatal collisions which resulted from a driver being impaired by drugs or alcohol, and issue a warning to would-be offenders on our roads.

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There are 17 illegal and medicinal drugs included in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 legislation. This includes cannabis, cocaine, heroin, MDMA and amphetamine.

Sgt Helen Kumar, of Lincolnshire Police's Road Policing Unit.Sgt Helen Kumar, of Lincolnshire Police's Road Policing Unit.
Sgt Helen Kumar, of Lincolnshire Police's Road Policing Unit.

Over the last few years there has been a steady rise in the number of people arrested for drug driving across the county, with 564 arrests for the offence last year, 499 in 2022, and 457 in 2021.

Tell-tale signs of a drug driver are said to be driving extremely erratically or very aggressively.

The force shared the following interview:

What are the most common offences you come across for drug driving?

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The offence we deal with regularly results from drivers taking controlled drugs and going onto drive while impaired. Tragically, some of the serious and fatal collisions we attend have resulted from drivers who were impaired at the time through drink or drugs.

How are offending drivers found?

In various ways. They often come to our attention just by being so bad at driving. Some are found when we stop vehicles which are linked to other acquisitive crimes. Others are located through intelligence and with the assistance of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

The police can stop a driver at any time to require them to produce their driving licence and insurance documents. If the officer suspects drug use, or if the driver has committed a traffic offence, or following involvement in an RTC; they can also require the driver to complete a roadside field impairment test, breath test and drug test.

When someone has drugs in their system, how does this affect their driving?

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There are a few tell-tale signs. Those in the “up” phase tend to drive with a severe lack of patience, and many fixate on the vehicle ahead of them following too closely or identify themselves to us with other aggressive forms of driving. As the “low” kicks in, they’ll struggle with the basics, like keeping on the right part of the road or braking erratically.

What are the penalties for this offence?

For those fortunate enough to be caught before a serious collision occurs, it's a minimum of a 12-month ban for being over the specified limit or failing to provide samples. For those we don't come across soon enough, it's anything up to life in prison for causing a fatality after consuming drugs. This also applies to those who take prescription drugs which make them unfit to drive.

What happens when someone fails a roadside drug test?

They will be arrested and taken to a police station. They’ll then provide an evidential sample, so generally a blood sample. That is sent off for analysis to determine exactly what drug(s) and how much is in their system. If it’s over the legal limit a charge and court case will follow. The limits are necessary to demonstrate that the driver has intentionally consumed drugs, and the limits for controlled drugs are low as a result. Any amount causing impairment also amounts to an offence.

Can you tell us more about driving and controlled drugs?

Unprescribed controlled drugs cause serious harm to individuals and society. Some might argue that what they supply or consume doesn’t affect anyone else, but drug driving is yet another example why this isn’t true. Regular users of controlled drugs are impaired every day of the week, which a lot of people don’t realise.

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When patients take prescription drugs, a lot of research has gone into the effect of how those specific drugs impact driving, and doctors are advised accordingly about when their patients can and can’t drive.

Controlled drugs are an unknown quantity in terms of strength, and what they contain; it’s not always what it says on the tin. That’s part of the reason driving with even small quantities of controlled drugs in the body is illegal.

Why is it important to share your experience?

It’s important because it highlights a local and national problem that as a unit, we are trying to do something about. For such a serious offence which has claimed countless victims, it shouldn’t be as easy for us to find drug drivers. I wish it was an exceptional achievement but unfortunately, it’s a regular occurrence for us.

I hope that engaging with the public in this way reminds drugs drivers that we are always looking for them, and hopefully deters others from taking them in the first place.

Any advice to drivers?

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Drive with the appropriate mindset and remember it's a serious responsibility. People are often desensitised to the risk. For example, we are routinely controlling two tonnes of weight and manoeuvring this force at speeds of 60 miles per hour. Nobody holds a gun and forgets it is dangerous, but for some reason people do when they control vehicles.

What else do the roads policing unit do?

It’s pretty much everything involving roads, and we’re utilised to stop vehicles being used in crime such as stolen vehicles, where drivers are disqualified and still driving; everything we do is to keep our roads safe and stop criminals in their tracks.

We attend and investigate the most serious collisions. We are tasked to deal with various traffic offences, often working with other agencies such as the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership. We also support colleagues across the force with policing the county, including emergencies or operations. It’s so varied, no two days are ever the same.

Is your role rewarding?

It is regularly rewarding. It’s rewarding when we provide a good service to people who are affected by serious collisions.

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In relation to drug driving offences, it’s rewarding when we stop someone who we know was previously taking drugs and they pass a roadside drug test. It shows that some have taken notice of what we’re doing and have stopped putting others, and themselves, at risk of being killed or seriously injured.