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Top traffic policeman warns officers are 'powerless' to tackle drug-drivers

Scotland's most senior traffic policeman has admitted that officers are "powerless" to stop drug-drivers and that reliable tests capable of securing convictions are years away.

John Vine's warning comes as forces launch their annual Christmas and New Year crackdown on drink and drug-driving. But there is widespread frustration among chief constables that offenders are escaping justice because there is no scientific test capable of catching drivers who are under the influence of drugs.

Vine, chief constable of Tayside Police, said that without a device similar to the breathalyzer used to detect drink-drivers, countless drug-drivers will avoid detection.

Recent government research shows up to one in 10 Scots had driven while under the influence of drugs. However, figures released last week showed only 40 drivers were convicted of drug-driving in Scotland last December, double the number for the previous year.

Vine's comments come as Scotland on Sunday campaigns for action to reduce death among youngsters on our nation's roads. Last year, 81 under-25s died and 265 were hurt in accidents.

Vine, who is road traffic spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: "Last year's figure is a tiny number. There are many more out there on a daily basis and there is a lot of frustration among officers that there is nothing to detect them.

"We know this is a problem and we would like to do something about it because we have been waiting 10 years on it. I would like more progress.

We have very limited powers. It is quite frightening when you realise they are driving under the influence of drugs but there is no single test to catch them."

Since 2001, Scottish police officers have used field impairment tests to detect if drivers have been taking drugs. Suspected drug-drivers perform physical tasks to test their co-ordination. A blood test can then be taken at a police station if officers suspect guilt.

The Home Office is currently developing a roadside screening device to detect drug-drivers, after analysing their saliva. The device will use a specially designed chemical slide, which is then exposed to ultraviolet light.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "This [device] allows a more real-time, current assessment of what a subject might be using. It will be a couple of years before our multi-drug device is available and type-approved for use, as the scientific work behind it is highly complex."

However, Chief Inspector Paul Fleming, deputy head of road policing at Strathclyde Police - who was partly responsible for introducing field impairment tests to detect drug-drivers in Scotland - said: "I don't know if manufacturers will be able to provide a device suitable for road policing. In extremes of temperature outside it will be difficult to work it and we cannot use something that is unreliable."

Mike McDonnell, director of Road Safety Scotland, said: "At the moment it is not, in itself, illegal to take drugs and drive, which is why we need something better to detect [drug-drivers]."

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