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Police warn drug-fuelled motorists are on the rise as arrests in the Highlands and Islands soar to record-worst levels

By Alasdair Fraser

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Officer with a roadside drugs test.
Officer with a roadside drugs test.

Drug-driving arrests in the Highlands and Islands soared to record-worst levels just three weeks into this year’s festive crackdown by police.

The number of illegal substance abuse detections among motorists up to December 22 surpassed last year’s entire campaign total.

The worrying statistic prompted a senior north police officer leading the fight against dangers on our roads to issue a fresh warning on the devastating consequences drink and drug-driving convictions can have on the lives of victims, offenders and families.

Inspector Donnie Mackinnon, from Police Scotland’s Highland and Islands road policing unit, described the arrests as “of great concern” and warned: “Those who are misusing substances will be detected if they drive on our roads.

“It is for individuals to think about the consequences of that.”

From December 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021, 24 drink-drivers and 27 drug-drivers were detected across the Highlands and Islands.

This year, from December 1-22, 15 drink-drivers and 28 drug-drivers were arrested, with figures for the remainder of the month set to be significantly higher.

The worrying statistics mirror a surge in drug-driving detections across Scotland since new legislation in October 2019 gave police a road-side drugs testing capability.

Saliva wipes from drivers stopped routinely or under suspicion enable officers to obtain a positive or negative roadside reading for cannabis or cocaine within eight minutes.

Suspects are then transported to a police station for blood tests that can also detect other illegal substances.

Inspector Mackinnon stressed that drug-driving was just as dangerous as drink-driving and highlighted how, as well as risking lives, those convicted could lose employment with catastrophic effects on livelihoods and family life.

He said: “Unfortunately, I can report that we exceeded the number of drug-drivers a few days before Christmas. This represents a massive rise in the number of detections across the area.

“Since the current festive campaign started, drug-drivers have vastly exceeded drink-drivers which is obviously of great concern.

“To have 15 drink-drivers in the area detected already is, in itself, a worrying figure with the campaign not ending until January. We’re only nine off last year as it stands, which is a matter of concern.

“The drug-driving figure probably highlights a problem that has existed for years, but the difference is we now have the full toolkit to deal with it.

“Statistics like these are always worrying, but in one sense it might reassure our communities to know we’re out there detecting offenders and taking them off the roads.

“That’s certainly a great positive from our perspective.”

Offenders face a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a large fine, as well as three to 11 points on their driving licence and possible loss of their vehicle.

Causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drugs carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence and a minimum driving ban of two years.

Inspector Mackinnon added: “There is obviously the catastrophic impact drug-driving can have in terms of lives lost, but it is important to remember the personal consequences.

“Those convicted can lose their job, with a devastating impact on their family, the potential loss of homes and mortgages, or rent arrears.

“Whatever your personal circumstances, there can be long-lasting repercussions if convicted.”

• Call police on 101 if you suspect someone has taken drugs or had too much to drink before getting behind the wheel.

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