Convictions up, but shocking numbers still drug-driving

29 February 2016

As the Department for Transport confirms a six-fold increase in the number of people caught drug-driving, we can reveal huge numbers of drivers and passengers are still taking dangerous risks when it comes to drugs. 

The survey by Brake, the road safety charity, and Direct Line reveals a shocking one in 16 drivers (6%) admit they drive at least once a month after having taken drugs.

The release of these figures comes a year after the introduction of new drug-drive laws designed to make it easier for police to catch criminal drivers. In the 12 months since the law change, there has been a six-fold increase[i] in the number of convictions for drug-driving nationally, but some individual police forces have seen their arrest rates go up by 800%.

On 2 March 2015 it became an offence in England and Wales to drive with even small amounts of 17 legal and illegal drugs in your system, including cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine. The law removed the need to prove the driver was “impaired” and set the levels so low, it effectively brought in a zero tolerance when it comes to drug-driving. The offence carries an automatic 12-month driving ban, a fine of up to £5,000 and a prison sentence of up to six months.[ii]

The change in the law coincided with the introduction of new roadside drug testing kits that are used by the police to detect even tiny amounts of the most commonly used drugs: cannabis and cocaine.

Brake and Direct Line’s survey also found one in 12 people (8%) thought they had probably or definitely been a passenger, in the last year, in a car driven by someone who had taken drugs. Worryingly, one in six people (16%) said they would get in a car with a drug driver.

The latest official road safety figures available show 47 road deaths and 197 serious injuries in 2014 were caused when a driver was impaired by some kind of drugs. This was up from 21 deaths and 181 serious injuries in 2013.[iii] But some estimates suggest around 200 people a year are killed on Britain’s roads by drivers on drugs.

Read more here about how different drugs can affect a person’s driving.

Alice Bailey, campaigns advisor for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “The hundreds of extra convictions over the last 12 months prove just how overdue this law change was. Different drugs have different effects, some slowing reaction times, others making drivers over confident and more likely to take risks, but they all have the potential to make drivers a danger to themselves and all other road users. The government must make sure the police have the necessary resources to carry out these tests and keep catching dangerous drug drivers who risk killing themselves or someone else.”

Rob Miles, director of car insurance at Direct Line, said: “The significant increase in drug-driving convictions since the change in the law last year should serve as a serious deterrent to those considering getting behind the wheel after taking drugs. This is testament to how, when road safety issues are given due prominence, positive change can be achieved.”


Case Study

14-year-old Lillian Groves was knocked down and killed by a speeding driver who had taken cannabis. Her killer was jailed for just eight months but was released after just eight weeks. Her family campaigned for the Government to introduce roadside drug testing devices, and still campaigns for the tougher sentences for those found guilty of drug-driving.

Lillian’s aunt, Michaela Groves, said: "These latest figures show that drug driving is a real problem, putting many lives at risk. All the hard work is making a difference but I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is expected these figures will continue to increase year on year as the drug-drive law becomes embedded nationally. I’m concerned there won't be any real change in driver behaviour until we start seeing the punishments and sentences for drug-driving as harsh as they can be. Therefore we must make the message very clear - if you drive after taking drugs, you will be banned for a long time, at least two years; and if you kill someone after taking drugs and then driving, you will be jailed for 14 years and in addition to this will receive a criminal record. I also would like to see drug-drive education become part of the driving test so young people understand the dangers when they first get behind the wheel."

Audio from Michaela available on request

Take action: Make the Brake Pledge to never drive after taking drugs or drinking any alcohol, plan ahead on nights out so everyone gets home safely, and speak out if a friend is drug-driving.


Full survey results

Q1: In the past year, have you driven after taking illegal drugs?

7% of drivers report having driven in the past year after having taken illegal drugs.

•           Once a week or more             3%

•           About once a month               3%

•           Less than once a month         1%

•           No, never                                93%

Q2: Within the past year, have you been a passenger with a driver who has taken illegal drugs or may still be affected by taking them?

One in five people (18%) might have been a passenger in a car driven by a person on drugs in the past year.

•           Definitely                     3%

•           Probably                      5%                  

•           Possibly/don’t know    10%

•           Definitely not               82%

Q3: If you had been relying on a designated driver to drive you home, and then found out that they had been taking drugs, would you get in?

One in six people would get into the car with a designated driver who they knew had taken drugs.

•           Yes, probably, no matter what the circumstances     3%

•           Yes, but only if they seemed safe to drive                 13%                

•           No, definitely not                                                         84%


Notes to Editors:

For interview opportunities with Brake and Michaela Groves, please contact Brake by email on

Brake urges all drivers to make theBrake Pledgeto never drive after taking drugs or drinking any alcohol, plan ahead on nights out so everyone gets home safely, and speak out if a friend is drug-driving.

About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity, founded in 1995, that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Follow Brake on TwitterFacebook, or The Brake Blog.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

About Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or online.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting



[iii], Table number RAS50001



Tags: Department for Transport research drug-drive drug-driving