CHARLES GRAHAM - At last: a test for lethal drug-driving

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A COUPLE of years ago two traffic officers came to the Wigan Evening Post headquarters to publicise the police’s latest anti-drink-drive campaign.

For the one and only time in my life (so far) I blew into a breathalyser and then was asked to don an extraordinary pair of goggles.

Fitted with all sorts of distorting prisms, they sought to replicate the way drink, and particularly drugs, affect a driver’s balance, judgement and reactions.

I was put through a series of rather quaint “field impairment tests” which involved trying to walk in a straight line and carry out various co-ordination exercises involving touching my nose.

Unsurprisingly, given the horrendously queasy and disorientating effects of the goggles, I failed the tests miserably although I should hastily add that the breath test was clear.

The goggles literally gave me an insight into the kind of impairments drugs can inflict on a motorist and it was, I have to say, pretty scary to think that there are people out there in charge of potentially deadly vehicles in that condition.

Scary also was the fact that the only way of deducing whether someone was under the influence of illegal drugs or high on medication was to carry out these rather rudimentary tests.

After all we’ve had the breathalyser ever since Barbara Castle was transport secretary and what a godsend they have been.

These gadgets have done so much over the years to stigmatise the selfish, reckless and downright deadly practice of drink-driving that the breathalyser has probably been more responsible for saving more lives on the road than any other police measure in history.

Of course you will always get those still prepared to take a risk but now there is a much greater likelihood of their being found out and being banned from the roads.

The likelihood of being caught while under the influence of drugs, however, appears to have remained quite low. Seasonal campaigns against motorists under the influence of substances only ever seem to include one or two who failed the impairment test compared with dozens of drink-drivers.

And yet I would like to bet that there are quite a few people, particularly those taking illegal drugs, who have been getting away with it at the wheel for a long time.

Perhaps not for much longer though, as the Government unveiled plans this week to introduce a gadget similar to the breathalyser which will find out drivers under the influence of drugs.

Its introduction cannot come a moment too soon.