Drug driving has now become more widespread than drink driving, a new police report has revealed.
About eighty motorists each day are caught driving under the influence of drugs, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
However, many suspected offenders avoid prosecution because of delays in processing blood tests, the Daily Mail reported.
Test results typically take between four and five months to process while officers have only six months to prosecute.
In the intervening period, motorists under investigation for drunk driving are free to continue driving.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that over the past six years drug-driving cases have fallen 36 per cent – from 27,962 in 2021 to 17,835 last year.
Prosecutions for drink driving have increased 16 per cent from 2020, rising to 33,099 cases in 2022.
The NCC report was published after forces launched a coordinated six-week long crackdown on drug driving last year under the name Operation Limit.
The report concluded drug driving was more prevalent across the UK than drink driving’.
It reads: “Police forces have voiced that the sentencing is not stringent enough, for example if a higher dose of drugs is identified in the driver’s sample the sentence is rarely any different to a standard 12-month ban”.
“Forces have also stated when they put forward both charges to magistrates, (alcohol & drugs) the sentence is still not increased. This results in forces testing motorists for either drug or alcohol, not both. This leads to unreliable and skewed results and prevents a true reflection of this problem across the country being identified.”
Operation Limit saw an 18 per cent rise in arrests for drink and drug driving with 6,130 drivers caught compared with 5,186 in the same period in 2021.
On average, 80 motorists on drugs were caught every day during the operation but some of them may never face charges.
In April 2022, the then Transport Secretary, Grant Schapps proposed barring convicted drug drivers from being allowed back behind a wheel until they had taken rehabilitation courses.
Advisors at the time proposed a new combined drink and drug driving offence, with a lower drug and blood alcohol limit because of the heightened risk from combining the two.
Monday’s report has also highlighted the “significantly increased costs” for blood tests.
Experts estimate the bill for processing one is around £500. For a simple roadside breath test for alcohol it costs 20p.
Police are now asking the Home Office to consider forcing convicted motorists to pay.
Ean Lewin of DTec International, which supplies roadside drug tests to all forces, told the Mail: “This report highlights the growing risk from drug drivers and how specialist roads policing officers need a more efficient, quicker prosecution system.
“More specialist officers are required, a faster confirmation option of saliva for cannabis and cocaine could be taken at the roadside, processed in the laboratory and completed in a matter of days. This would mean a court appearance in the next week.”
An NPCC spokesman told the publication: “There are costs associated with forensic analysis for this offence like many others and in recent years there has been pressure on the analysis capacity available to police forces which caused some delays.
“However, because of positive and proactive engagement between the NPCC and analysis providers, we have now reached a position whereby there is significant capacity available.”
In January, it emerged that more than 1,700 suspected drug drivers are likely to be cleared after a laboratory botched their test results.
The motorists were stopped by police between April 2019 and December 2020 and after providing a sample, tested positive for an illegal level of cannabis in their bloodstream.
But officials from Synlab Laboratory Service Limited (Synlab), the private company which carried out the analysis, raised the alarm after discovering a problem in the way the results had been calculated.
A major review of the data was carried out and a total of 1,778 positive results have now been declared as unsafe.
The figure is thought to include some motorists who have already been found guilty of driving while under the influence of cannabis and who are now likely to have their convictions quashed.
Others who were waiting for their cases to come to court are now expected to be informed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that proceedings have been dropped.
All those caught up in the blunder, had traces of cannabis in their system, but Synlab were unable to say for certain whether they were above the two micrograms per litre of blood legal limit.
Synlab, which carried out drug drive tests for 23 police forces in England and Wales, had its licence withdrawn when the mistake was discovered and it has not been reinstated.