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Scourge of drink and drug driving

PUBLISHED: 16:16 06 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

DRIVERS who mix drink and drugs before taking to the wheel could be impairing their judgement

without even realising it. Even if you're not over the legal alcohol limit, combining drink with over-the-counter, prescription or illegal drugs could make you unfit to drive and land you in trouble with the law.

DRIVERS who mix drink and drugs before taking to the wheel could be impairing their judgement

without even realising it. Even if you're not over the legal alcohol limit, combining drink with over-the-counter, prescription or illegal drugs could make you unfit to drive and land you in trouble with the law. Crime reporter LISA BAXTER reports.

YOU'RE pulled over by the police who have spotted you driving erratically and you pass a breath test but your troubles don't necessarily stop there.

For motorists who combine an alcoholic tipple with some types of medication or with illegal drugs could still be arrested for being unfit to drive, Suffolk's top traffic cop Chief Inspector Mike Gooch warned.

"We look at drugs in the same way as drink," he said. "It impairs your ability to drive." And not only illegal drugs can cause problems when mixed with drink but readily available prescription and non-prescription drugs can effect your motoring, he said. "If your ability to drive is impaired, you're committing an offence," he added.

Ch Insp Gooch said when you warn motorist of the danger of mixing drink, drugs and driving, they "assume you're talking about illegal drugs", but in many cases, legal medication is effecting drivers' ability to negotiate roads safely.

Even if you pass a breath test, police officers have the power to take you in to the station and carry out tests to establish whether any other substances are inhibiting your judgement, he told. "If an officer in Suffolk saw someone whose driving was impaired but they passed the breath test, they could still be taken in for tests, [for example a blood test]," Ch Insp Gooch explained.

Police can also use the time-honoured way of checking a driver's faculties (used before the introduction of sophisticated breathalysing equipment); getting a motorist to walk in a straight line, for example, checking if their pupils are dilated or listening for slurred speech.

"The old methods are still available to any officer who may use them if they have cause to suspect drugs," Ch Insp Gooch said. "The law allows you to do it."

National statistics show that around 90 per cent of those people who pass breath tests but are then tested for other substances (when police suspect them of being under the influence), test positive for drugs.

Carey Godfrey, Suffolk's Drug Action Team co-ordinator, said: "Combining drink and drugs can be very dangerous. It will impair your decision making process, slow down your reaction time and, in some cases, lead to death.

"Alcohol and other drugs such as heroin and anti-depressants will slow down the central nervous system," he said. "Drugs such as cannabis will effect co-ordination and stimulant-type drugs which speed up the central nervous system can be very dangerous if you are driving."

Mr Godfrey echoed Ch Insp Gooch's warning about legal drugs and the effect of combing them with drink and driving.

"There are also over-the-counter drugs such as Night Nurse, Codeine Linctus and Collis Browne which have a combined effect when consuming alcohol.

"The main message is don't mix drugs and alcohol and certainly do not drive while under the influence."

At the launch of the Government's £1million anti drink-drive campaign this week, Chief Constable of Norfolk Ken Williams revealed that more than 2,000 people a year are arrested for drug-and-drive offences.

Speaking on the eve of the launch of Suffolk Police's own anti drink-drive campaign, Ch Insp Gooch urged the public to blow the whistle on anyone they suspected of taking to the road over the legal alcohol limit. And he revealed that those caught last year for getting behind a wheel under the influence of drink spanned the age range.

"We are not catching a specific age range more than others," he said. "While we caught predominantly males (during the last Christmas crackdown), they were across the age range. Men of any age still have the tendency to go out and drink and drive."

Ch Insp Gooch urged motorists to think not just about whether the combination of drugs with drink would impede their driving, but also whether a night's drinking might have left them over the limit the next day.

"It wasn't just the night-time period we were catching people [last year] but after they had been out, gone home and got up. They probably weren't aware that they were over the limit. Most people would assume after a night's sleep they would be safe to drive but it depends on how much they've drunk and their personal metabolism."

And he said there is still a percentage of the population who "continued to ignore the message" about the dangers of drink-driving.

"The police enforce the law because the law is there for a purpose. To prevent drinking and driving is to prevent injury, prevent misery and prevent death," he said. But "every year, certain members of the public do not see that message".

One of the difficulties in getting people to "shop" drink-drivers was that it was a crime which appeared victimless until there was a collision, Ch Insp Gooch said. "With other offences, you don't have an offence until there's a victim." But the drink-drive law is "formed to prevent there being a victim," he said.

nIf you know of someone who drink-drives regularly, call Suffolk Police on 01473 613500 or Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111. If you see someone getting in a car to drive and know they are over the limit, call 999.

nThe Evening Star launched its annual "Name and Shame" campaign on December 1 when we pledged to reveal the identity of drink-drivers prosecuted in Suffolk's courts. Throughout December and January, we will expose the names and faces of those who risk death and injury on the county's roads by taking to the wheel with excess alcohol in them. Their shame will be displayed on the pages of the Star and on our website where readers around the world will be able to see who they are at: www.eveningstar.co.uk

nFacts

The legal alcohol limit for driving is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

Drink-drivers are disqualified for a minimum of 12 months and run the risk of a £5,000 fine and six months in prison.

Causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs carries maximum penalties of ten years in prison, an unlimited find and a minimum two-year driving ban.

In 1976, more than 1,600 people were killed in drink-related road accidents. Last year there were 520 drink-drive deaths.

The Government has run anti drink-drive campaigns for the past 25 years and it is estimated 20,000 lives have been saved and hundreds of thousands of serious injuries prevented as a result.

nWeblinks

www.suffolk.police.uk

www.think.dtlr.gov.uk/drinkdrive/


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