Urgent Action on Drug-driving

Drugalyzers could 'weed out' 50,000/year

10 December 2008

Half of drivers believe that drug driving is a more common and serious problem than drink driving, according to a poll of 17,500 AA Populus panel members.

Over 50,000 drivers a year would fail roadside 'drugalyzer' tests if such devices were being used by UK police forces, according to a British company that has been conducting trials around the world.

Research from London-based Trimega Laboratories shows the device detects drug impairment in roughly half the number of drivers who fail breathalyzers – which the Home Office puts at just over 100,000 annually for England and Wales.

AA comment

AA president, Edmund King, said: "We must question whether the true extent of drug-driving is currently being picked up. In the recent road safety compliance consultation, the Department for Transport accepts that drug-driving has increased substantially but that official figures on motoring convictions and deaths caused by drug-drivers are not reliable indicators. We believe that this problem needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency with the best technology that is available."

Drugalyzers have yet to be type-approved in the UK but they are already being used by customs and police forces across Europe, in Australia, South Africa and the USA.

Experience in South Africa

The £1,400 device can detect cocaine, heroin, amphetamine and cannabis from a single saliva swab in around three minutes. Trimega has found, in its roadblocks in South Africa for example, that not only were a fifth (19%) of motorists who tested positive for alcohol also drug-driving, but one in eight (12%) drivers who passed the breathalyzer then failed the drugalyzer. Under normal law enforcement procedures these motorists would have likely been allowed to continue driving.

Field Impairment Test

In the UK, the penalties for drug-driving are the same as drink-diving - i.e. up to £5,000 fine, ban and possible 12 month custodial sentence. However, police at present have to rely on the 'FIT' – or Field Impairment Test – to detain those they suspect to be unfit to drive through drugs, either illegal or prescription. This involves:

  • Observing any pupil dilation
  • Counting out 30 seconds
  • Walking nine paces and back
  • Balancing on one leg
  • Touching nose with eyes closed

As with the breathalyzer 40 years ago, the AA predicts that the introduction of drugalyzers would - along with a wide reaching awareness campaign - result in a sharp drop in drug-driving offences.

Avi Lasarow, managing director of Trimega, added: "Just knowing the traffic police are equipped with drugalyzers could be a massive deterrent to drug-driving. One in three of those we've caught told us they actually thought the device is a good idea and will now think twice before taking to the road again under the influence of drugs."

The AA/Populus poll of 17500 drivers found:

  • 53% of the over 55s felt that drug driving was a bigger problem than drink driving against 40% of 18-24 age group
  • 48% of drivers in London, Scotland and Wakes felt drugs were a bigger problem
  • The Tyne Tees region had the highest percentage believing that drugs were a bigger problem compared to 51% in the Midlands


Drugs can affect drivers in a number of ways ranging from impaired concentration to poor reaction times:

Cannabis – Impaired concentration resulting in slower driver reaction times. Impaired steering control and co-ordination. The drug can also induce feelings of paranoia, drowsiness and disorientation.

Cocaine – This stimulant drug can result in drivers misjudging speed and stopping distances. The drug can give drivers a feeling of overconfidence, which can lead to aggressive driving and increased risk taking.

Ecstasy –This stimulant drug has hallucinogenic properties and can distort the driver's vision and affect concentration. Drivers under the influence of "E" show a significant decrease in their awareness of road dangers followed by severe fatigue the following day.

LSD –This hallucinogenic drug can strongly influence a driver's senses. Drivers may react to objects or sounds that aren't there, placing themselves and other road users in danger.

Opiates – Opiates lead to slower reaction time, lethargy, sleepiness and impaired co-ordination.

Tranquillisers – These drugs may impair driver reaction times and can cause drowsiness.

Trimega Laboratories

Established in London in 2005, Trimega Laboratories has developed a range of innovative techniques for testing substances of abuse. As well as delivering roadside drug testing projects, it offers laboratory-based analysis of hair samples that provide accurate historical records of any alcohol or drugs dependency over a three to 12 month period. This method is already being used in the UK by social services, regulatory bodies, professions such as nurses and pilots, as well as being ordered by the Courts directly. Trimega won the title of Best Use of Technology in the 2008 Startups Awards, was a regional winner in the 2008 HSBC Start-up Stars and runner-up in the 2008 National Business Awards.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


10 December 2008