Drug-driving arrests 'soar 800% since new laws introduced'

Drug-drive arrests have soared by up to 800% in the 12 months since new laws were introduced, the Department for Transport (DfT) has claimed.

Legal driving limits were laid down for 17 prescription and illegal drugs on March 2 last year.

There is virtually zero tolerance for drivers apprehended with illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis in their system.

The DfT published provisional figures from Cheshire Police which show its officers arrested more than 530 suspected drug-drivers from March 2015 to last month, up from just 70 in the whole of 2014.

A spokesman for the department said forces have been given an additional £1 million to train officers, purchase drug screening equipment and pay for samples to be analysed.

Under the new regulations, police can use "drugalyser" swabs to screen for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside.

Tests for these and other drugs such as ecstasy, LSD and ketamine can also be carried out at a police station even if a driver passes the roadside check.

The prescription drugs for which legal levels have been set include morphine and methadone, although people using these drugs within recommended amounts are not penalised.

During the Christmas 2015 anti-drink- and drug-drive campaign, 1,888 drug screening tests were carried out in just one month across England and Wales. Nearly 50% of these resulted in a positive result, according to the DfT.

Roads Minister Andrew Jones said: "Thanks to our tougher law, police are catching and convicting more dangerous drivers.

"The Government will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with police as they work tirelessly to protect the public while recognising enforcement alone is not the answer."

Cheshire Police chief constable Simon Byrne claimed the force has taken a "no nonsense" approach to using the new legislation "to target criminals who use our road networks".

To coincide with the first anniversary of the new laws a Government road safety THINK! campaign is being launched in cinemas, on radio and online to highlight the effectiveness of the roadside swab.

An AA survey of over 26,000 UK motorists found that 88% support the increased action against drug-drivers.

The organisation's president, Edmund King, claimed it was "remarkable" that the crackdown on drug driving has rallied this level of public support so quickly.

"It took decades for drink-driving to become as socially unacceptable as it is now," he said.

"Drug-driving is often the hidden killer on UK roads. We need to make it as anti-social as drink-driving. The new law and greater enforcement will help achieve this."