British Medical Association Wants Better Drug Screening for Drivers

LONDON (Reuters Health) Mar 11 – The British Medical Association (BMA) said on Tuesday that testing devices were urgently needed to stop motorists driving under the influence of drugs.
"People generally accept that you shouldn't drink and drive but probably have no idea about the effects of drugs on their driving ability," said the BMA's Head of Science and Ethics, Dr. Vivienne Nathanson.

"And we're not just talking about illegal drugs but prescribed ones too. Millions of people regularly take drugs like antidepressants, painkillers, antihistamines and cough mixtures, all of which can have a sedative effect, and yet most of these people probably think it's totally safe for them to drive."

The BMA said in a statement that the number of people involved in fatal road accidents who tested positive for cannabis had increased four-fold from 3% to 12% in Britain between the 1980s and 1990s.

"The BMA fears that this number will rise given the increasing use of drugs. Nearly half of 16-to-24-year olds in England and Wales are reported as having tried cannabis and 39% claimed to have taken hallucinogens."

"Cannabis is the most frequently detected illicit drug in accident fatalities and is known to impair coordination, visual perception, tracking and vigilance."

Developing an effective device to assess the effects of drugs on driving ability would be difficult and the government should coordinate research efforts, the BMA said.

"Levels of drugs in the body, degrees of impairment and how long a drug remains in the body all need to be evaluated. Alcohol often exaggerates the effects of drugs so any testing device would also need to measure the potential effect of a drug when consumed with alcohol," according to the BMA.

"The fact that cannabis can be found in blood as long as 28 days or even longer after last use demonstrates how difficult it would be to predict whether or not a driver's ability had been adversely affected by the drug."

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