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“Absolute madness” - van driver 14 times limit for ketamine among Norfolk police stops

PUBLISHED: 12:43 18 July 2018 | UPDATED: 19:41 18 July 2018

The drug test after a sample of saliva has been tested. (This one is negative for both cannabis and cocaine). Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The drug test after a sample of saliva has been tested. (This one is negative for both cannabis and cocaine). Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A van driver 14 times the legal limit for ketamine and a man on cocaine with three children under five in the car.

PC Chris Alexander gives a driver a saliva swab as part of the summer drink and drug drive campaign. It came back as negative. Picture: Dominic GilbertPC Chris Alexander gives a driver a saliva swab as part of the summer drink and drug drive campaign. It came back as negative. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

They are just two examples cited by roads policing officer PC Chris Alexander who said some of the cases he has seen on the roads are “frightening”.

Throughout the month of June, Norfolk Police have been enforcing a drink and drug-drive campaign on the region’s roads.

And while the dangers of drink-driving are now common knowledge, less is known about the laws around drug-driving.

“The safest thing to do is not use drugs,” said PC Alexander. “What people really need to wake up to is it is not just you on the roads. You are in a lethal machine. If something happens to you it is your life. If it is someone else, is it worth going away for death by dangerous driving for the sake of a line? It is a very dangerous game to play.”

A saliva swab drug test being used as part of the summer drink and drug drive campaign. Picture: Dominic GilbertA saliva swab drug test being used as part of the summer drink and drug drive campaign. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

The toolkit for dealing with drug-drivers has been boosted in recent years. A saliva swab introduced now allows officers to test on the roadside for cannabis and cocaine, and blood tests will detect any number of 14 drugs following a traffic stop or collision.

Even when the swab fails, police can fall back on traditional methods such as the field impairment test (FIT).

“We need to have a suspicion,” said PC Alexander. “You need someone to be saying to you this person is using drugs and 
driving. Clearly there could be an element of careless driving. Any moving traffic offence would give us the power to test for drink or drugs.

“I would look for traits of those particular drugs. If it is not their manner of driving, with cocaine that would manifest itself by overconfidence, with excess speed and bold manoeuvres.

Sgt Chris Harris with a promotional drug test showing the results after a sample of saliva has been tested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSgt Chris Harris with a promotional drug test showing the results after a sample of saliva has been tested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“Cannabis is going to be the complete opposite – and will be slower reactions and late braking. If we had a suspicion of another drug – the classic would be heroin or an overdose of prescribed drugs – we get the power at the roadside to do three tests.

“They are the alcohol breath test, saliva test for drugs and the FIT test. If they are going to pass the first two or there is something about the manner of their driving or their reactions, we can go to the FIT test.

“We look at things like pupil size and go through a series of five tests. They are all those things that can lead you to believe that person is not fit.

“We will ask them to guess 30 seconds. Some will guess it after 10 seconds and others will fall asleep counting. The saliva tests are so successful, but if that is negative but we know there is something there to say the person is not fit, we can use the FIT test.”

PC Alexander said the most memorable stop was a van driver on the Acle Straight whose car had come off the road.

He tested positive for cannabis in the saliva swab. Blood tests taken later showed he was 14 times the limit for ketamine.

“He came down the Acle Straight – one of the worst roads in the county – in the pitch black and chucking down with rain,” said PC Alexander.

“He quite easily could have had a head-on collision with another vehicle. It was rush hour at the time. Everything about that was ridiculous.

“Ketamine is very fast to leave the system – I would hate to think what his levels were while he was driving.

“That was absolute madness.”

The driver was banned for 42 months.

But even more serious consequences can emerge from failing a drug-drive test. PC Alexander said drivers have failed the test with children in their car “no end of times”, including one man who tested positive for cocaine and had three children under the age of five in the car.

“That led to social services getting involved and the children have subsequently been taken away from them,” added PC Alexander. “That one traffic stop led to those children being re-homed to a better life.

“I think people are often surprised at how long a drug will stay in your system. People can be quite naive about how long they can be impaired for. Others just aren’t aware we are testing for it.

“The common excuse is they have not had anything today. But it is like the classic alcohol the night before and driving on Sunday morning. Technically cocaine can stay in your system, and we have stopped people on a Tuesday who said they haven’t had anything since Friday night. If you use it a lot, it will hang about in your system.

“If you look at the demographic of people who use cocaine, it can be people in quite high-flying positions. You should never rule anything out.

“It is frightening how much is on the roads and it has been an eye opener for me.”

Drug drive limits

Drug-driving is not confined to illegal drugs. Prescription medication can also push a driver over the limit in some cases.

Amphetamines, morphine and methadone are drugs which can lead to a conviction in certain quantities, especially if they have not been prescribed.

Limits are set on illegal drugs to allow for “accidental” exposure, and will vary depending on the drug. While the threshold limit for temazepam is 1,000 microgrammes per litre of blood, the limit for cannabis is two, and heroin, five.

If you are convicted of drug-driving you will get:

- A minimum one-year driving ban

- An unlimited fine

- Up to six months in prison

- A criminal record

- Your driving licence will also show you have been convicted for drug-driving. This will last for 11 years.

- The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

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