Drug driving convictions double in just four years

DVLA figures show soaring number of motorists caught driving under the influence of illegal and legal drugs

The number of drivers convicted of drug driving has almost doubled in the last four years.

Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) show that more than 20,000 motorists were caught driving or attempting to drive under the influence of drugs in 2021 - up from 10,500 in 2018.

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Driving under the influence of drugs - both illegal and prescription - became a specific offence in Britain in 2015 and the latest figures could reflect a rising number of offenders or improved detection by police.

Officers can test at the roadside or the police station for 17 different substances and drivers caught exceeding strict limits face a driving ban, unlimited fine and penalty points.

Police can use roadside “drug wipes” to test for several illegal substances (Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)Police can use roadside “drug wipes” to test for several illegal substances (Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)
Police can use roadside “drug wipes” to test for several illegal substances (Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Police can test for drugs including cannabis and cocaine using roadside ‘drugalysers’, while other banned substances such as heroin and ecstasy are detected using screening methods at the police station.

Under a zero-tolerance approach, any level of illegal drugs beyond a tiny allowance for “accidental exposure” will result in a conviction. For prescription drugs such a diazepam and methadone, the threshold is set on a road safety risk based on when the medication is likely to impair someone’s driving.

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The figures, obtained from the DVLA by Motoreasy, show a steady rise in convictions, going from 10,479 in 2018 to 12,219 in 2019,  14,377 in 2020 and 20,407 in 2021. Among offenders were a 78-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old.

They also show that the North West of England was the drug driving capital of Britain with 13,166 offenders, while the South East was next with 9,929, ahead of the East of England with 8,298 and Greater London with 7,171.

South West Scotland had the lowest number of offenders with just 30, followed by Central Scotland on 41.

Duncan McClure Fisher, CEO of MotorEasy, commented: “Britain’s drug driving problem is growing each year and urgent intervention is needed to prevent tragedies on our roads.

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“There is never an excuse to get behind the wheel while impaired, whether that’s through drugs or alcohol.

“We all have a responsibility to other motorists to make sure we are fit to drive and to ensure our roads are as safe as possible.”

Any driver caught exceeding the legal limits faces a mandatory driving ban of at least a year, an unlimited fine and a potential six-month jail sentence. Their licence will also show they have been convicted of drug driving for 11 years.

Drivers convicted of causing death while under the influence of drugs or drink face a minimum two-year driving ban, unlimited fine and up to 14 years in prison.

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