New Drug Driving Laws - But Who Will Enforce Them?
On Monday March 2 a new law came into force which made it a crime to drive a car while under the influence of certain prescribed drugs.
Now drugs such as tamazepam, morphine and diazepam will all have bloodstream limits, and anyone taking these sorts of drugs will need to understand how the new laws will affect them, what the limits are and how long these drugs remain in the bloodstream. Much like anyone who has a few drinks in the evening, anyone who takes these drugs at night is going to have to think carefully about how fit they are to drive in the morning.
There is no doubt that people under the influence of such drugs pose a real risk to other motorists as well as themselves and should not be behind the wheel. It has taken some time for the police to be kitted out with equipment that can detect such drugs and for the new laws to be brought in to allow the courts to prosecute. The move has been welcomed by motoring organisations such as the AA. At the same time, the government has tightened up the laws on drink-driving to remove a few procedural loopholes. While these changes make it seem as if the government is cracking down on those who drink or take drugs and then drive, there are some people that question how effective these new laws will be.
The main concern is just exactly who will be in place to enforce the new laws. Official figures have revealed that the number of traffic police operating in England and Wales has fallen by an incredible 23% in the four years between March 2010 and March 2014. During this time, the number of traffic police officers dropped from 5,635 to 4,356. This figure was revealed as part of an official government response to an MP's parliamentary question.
According to the RAC, this means that traffic laws, including these new measures, will simply not be enforced. It also calls into question Home Office statistics that claim to show that crime is falling. The government says that crime has been reduced by 20% by the current coalition. But, put simply, if there are no police on the roads to catch offenders, then the numbers of crimes recorded by the police will obviously fall.
Some of the cuts in traffic cops across the country are truly startling. In Devon and Cornwall, for example, there were 239 traffic officers in 2010 but only 57 in 2014, representing a drop of an astonishing 76%. In fact, in the year between March 2012 and March 2013, there were no full-time traffic police officers working in Devon and Cornwall at all. There were similar stories across the country, with Essex seeing a 71% cut in traffic police and Nottinghamshire reporting a 68% drop.
According to Pete Williams, head of external affairs at the RAC, such figures make a mockery of the new driving laws. He argued that the government can introduce as many new laws as it likes, but if there are no officers to enforce them, then drivers who break the laws will not get caught. The government has championed the use of cameras to enforce road traffic laws, but Williams pointed out that these were only good for catching speeding cars and those going through red lights. They can do nothing at all to combat drink-driving or drug-driving, using mobiles while driving or not wearing seat belts.
The government has continued to insist that there are enough traffic police available to properly police our roads, and the Home Office still points to a reduction in reported crime of 20% over the course of the current parliament. As noted by the RAC, however, it is difficult to see how these claims can be robust in the area of traffic crimes when there are far fewer police officers available to record the crime.