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Queen Mary academic to advise government on drugs and driving

An academic from Queen Mary, University of London has been chosen to be part of a panel set up to give advice to the government about the influences of drugs on driving.

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Professor Atholl Johnston
Professor Atholl Johnston

Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Queen Mary, Atholl Johnston, regularly gives evidence to the courts in relation to drugs, alcohol, and driving. He has been appointed to the panel for his expertise in the assessment of drug action in humans and the measurement of drugs in biological fluids.

The government set up the advisory panel in response to review which indicated that driving, while impaired by drugs, is as important an issue as drink driving.

Professor Atholl Johnston said: “There is a relative lack of public awareness around the risks involved whilst driving under the influence of drugs – whether they are illegal drugs or prescription medication.

“I hope, as part of the panel, I can impart my specialist advice and knowledge to allow the government to introduce new measures to tackle the problems associated with drug driving.”

The government unveiled new legislation last week in the Queen’s Speech to create a specific drug-driving offence. Police currently have to demonstrate that driving had been impaired by drugs in order to prosecute.

Under the proposed legislation it will automatically be an offence to drive a motor vehicle if you have certain controlled drugs in your body in excess of specified limits. This will make it much easier for police to take action against drug drivers.

Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said: “The new offence sends out a clear message that if you drive whilst under the influence of drugs you will not get away with it.

“We have an enviable record on road safety in this country and I want to keep it that way. This measure will help to rid our roads of the irresponsible minority who risk the lives of innocent motorists and pedestrians.”

An independent review of drink and drug driving law in 2010 recommended that a new specified limit offence should be developed. The exact drugs covered by the offence and the specified limits for each will be determined following advice from the expert panel and a public consultation.

The advisory panel, including Professor Johnston, together with experts in the field of alcohol and drug misuse, will also work with officials from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Department of Health.

The panel has been convened to consider different sources of evidence to help to determine the degree of risk associated with certain drugs in relation to road safety.

“The ultimate aim is to establish whether in some specific circumstances different concentrations of drugs in oral fluid, blood or urine might be used in a similar way to promote road safety as breath, blood or urine alcohol concentrations are used currently,” Professor Johnston explained.

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