Drugs and driving - Dutch launch new campaign
Drugs and driving - Dutch launch new campaign
Most of us are familiar with the laws relating to drink driving and the prospect of the dreaded blow into the breathalyser on the way home from a party or meal out, hoping that second glass of wine around dessert time isn't going to register us as over the limit.
"P is the result", said the police officer the first time I was breathalysed. A kaleidoscope of nightmare alternatives flashed through my mind. "P is for pass," he added and off I drove, glad I hadn't had that ‘one for the road'.
Now comes the clampdown on driving under the influence of drugs. No, not the ones you buy on the street in the dark of some alley or that are passed around at a party. The Dutch transport ministry is targeting the drugs the doctor prescribed, that you bought in full daylight at your local pharmacy. Today, 7 October 2008, sees the launch of Rij veilig met medicijnen (Drive safely on medication), as part of the campaign series Daar kun je mee thuiskomen (That'll get you home [ok]).
One in ten
According to the transport ministry, one in ten drivers uses drugs which influence the capacity to react in an adequate manner in traffic. Sleeping pills, anti-depressants and certain medicines for hyperactivity, allergies, epilepsy, pain and even high blood pressure are on the danger list, as the authorities are taking a wider look at what driving under the influence really constitutes.
Police forces acros
s Europe are finding that a growing number of drivers involved in traffic accidents - many of them fatal - have drugs in their system, both illegal and prescription. Recent figures in the United Kingdom suggest that the drug-driving problem is becoming more prevalent that drink-driving. And the campaign launched in the Netherlands serves to increase awareness of the risks involved specifically in driving under the influence of legal drugs.
Shake it off
Dutch pharmacists and general practitioners will make information folders widely available, while radio ads warning us against driving with a drugs hangover are aired as we head into the morning congestion. It seems the danger of benzodiazepine sleeping pills are compounded if you haven't given yourself enough time to shake off the effects.
By logging onto www.rijveiligmetmedicijnen.nl
, you can check whether it's okay to use your prescription drug and drive. Take mirtazapine for example, an anti-depressant which has become popular because of its non-addictive qualities: an average dose is the equivalent of four standard glasses of alcohol, the same effect as a 0.8 promille blood-alcohol level. In the Netherlands, you're not allowed to drive with more than 0.5 promille in your system.
Benzodiazepines, our easy answer to sleeping disorders and anxiety, are particularly dangerous in the initial weeks of use. And levodaopa (with benserazide), prescribed for Parkinson's can cause you to drop off on the spot. It makes sense not to be dodging traffic if you're on this one...
The legal side
That brings us to the legal repercussions. No roadside drug screening device is in place yet to test the levels of prescription drugs in your body. In certain countries, including the UK, you can be asked to do an impairment test at a roadside check. If you can't stand on one leg, walk straight for nine paces, or put your finger on your nose accurately, then you may have to do a blood test, which can detect the drugs in your system.
At present, the Netherlands does not use impairment tests in roadside checks, but only as part of the procedure following a serious accident. But according to Dutch law, drivers who knowingly use a drug which can influence their reactions in traffic, can be charged. How to define "knowingly"? Look at the yellow sticker on the label of your drugs before taking a spin to calm your nerves.
As the whole drugs and driving issue gains larger proportions, it takes a star (the Hollywood type) to get it front-page coverage. Last weekend, Heather Locklear was arrested for driving under the influence. The former Melrose Place star was taken into custody by police in Santa Barbara after being reported for "driving erratically".
There was a whole battery of paparazzi cameramen ready to take shots of her arrest. She spent a night behind bars, allegedly for being high on prescription drugs whilst behind the wheel. Good timing for the Dutch campaign! Maybe now, drugs users will read the large yellow print. The campaign will continue until the end of the year.
8 October 2008