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drug driving

noun [uncountable]

the illegal activity of driving whilst under the influence of drugs

drug driver

noun [countable]

a person who drives whilst under the influence of drugs

'Drug driving will become a criminal offence punishable by up to six months in jail, under new laws to be unveiled this week… Ministers are acting to end the anomaly which requires police to prove that a motorist's driving was impaired by drugs for a prosecution to succeed.'

The Telegraph 7th May 2012

'Police cracking down on drug drivers … Police are targeting drug-using truckers as part of a crackdown on dangerous drivers. Operation Austrans, starting on Tuesday, is focused on fatigue, speeding and drug use among heavy vehicle drivers on major highways.'

Sky News Australia 1st May 2012

Every year in the UK, the Queen dons her full sparkling attire and enters the Palace of Westminster to read a speech prepared for her by the government. The event marks the state opening of parliament, and the speech outlines the legislative programme for the parliamentary year ahead. One headline-grabbing feature of this year's 'Crime and Courts Bill' was the activity of drug driving, which will become a criminal offence in Britain under the new legislation.

the activity of drug driving will become a criminal offence in Britain under the new legislation

Drug driving is the practice of driving a car, lorry or other vehicle whilst physically feeling the effects of controlled drugs (drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine which are not used medically but rather for 'recreational' purposes). People who do this are referred to as drug drivers. Surprisingly, though it seems logical that a driver's reactions will be affected by the presence of these substances in their bloodstream, in order to prosecute in the UK it has until now been necessary for police to somehow demonstrate that driving skills were impaired, usually by performing what is described as a Field Impairment Test or FIT (e.g. asking a driver to stand on one leg!) Under the new laws however, it's automatically an offence to drive a vehicle if you have more than a specified amount of controlled drugs in your body, and the same rules also apply to prescription drugs where it's clear that their use has been abused (e.g. if warnings on the packet specifically state that you shouldn't drive after taking them). Police will be able test drug levels by using screening devices dubbed drugalysers, which analyse saliva collected on mouth swabs. The term drugalyser is a portmanteau of words drug and analyser, the name taking inspiration from breathalyser, a device for testing how much alcohol a driver has drunk.

The ultimate aim of these new procedures is to bring the treatment of drug driving into line with drink driving (driving under the influence of alcohol). The UK witnessed a dramatic drop in road traffic accidents after drink driving laws were introduced in 1966. However studies estimate that drug driving is currently a factor in almost a quarter of all road accidents.

Background – drug driving

The expression drug driving is based on its forerunner drink driving, which came into popular use in the 1960s with the introduction of new legislation. The word drink in the expression denotes of course alcoholic drink (compare, e.g.: I really need a drink. or Let's go for/have a drink. which also usually imply the desire to consume alcohol).

Drink driving is in fact a British English expression, the same concept in the US being described, perhaps a little more transparently, as drunk driving, and offenders correspondingly called drunk drivers. US English has a whole raft of abbreviations which relate to driving after consuming alcohol or other drugs, including DWI (driving while intoxicated), DUI (driving under the influence) and even DUII (driving under intense influence). DUI is generally considered a less serious offence than DWI. The more tongue-in-cheek abbreviation DWY, standing for driving while yakking, is sometimes used to refer to the offence of driving whilst using a mobile phone.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 2nd July 2012.

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