Dramatic increase in numbers caught driving under influence of drugs
More than one in four Helsinki DUI cases involve drugs
According to police statistics, the number of drivers found under the influence of drugs has increased sharply. Last year police caught over 60 % more drug-affected motorists than in 2002.
The growth has been sustained this year, too. Until mid-April, close to 20 % more drivers under the influence of drugs were caught than within the same period last year. In 2003, more than 23,500 cases of drunken driving were recorded, an increase of 1.2%. The use of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs was found in a further 2,500 cases, up from just over 1,500 in 2002.
According to Supt. Heikki Seppä of the Ministry of the Interior 's Police Department, more than 25 % of all incidents of intoxicated driving reported in Helsinki have been drug-impaired motorists.
All over Finland one in ten of the incidents of intoxicated driving involve drugs. The majority of them are found in large cities.
Seppä points out that the change is partly the result of an increase in the number of drugged drivers, and partly stems from the new policy of zero tolerance for drug use in traffic.
According to the new law that took effect in February last year, authorities no longer need to prove that the driver was actually impaired by the drug, but a conviction is possible if a blood test reveals the presence of a drug or its metabolites in the driver's system.
The change in statistics became noticeable in May last year when for instance in Helsinki the figures doubled compared with the previous year. The police statistics contain incidents of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both.
Apart from zero tolerance, other reasons for the sudden jump in the numbers getting caught are the fact that police have been better trained to identify signs of drug-use as well as the fact that more efficient methods are being used by the police. Finnish police are currently running trials on new roadside testing devices that identify the presence of some of the most common drugs from a saliva sample. Positive tests will still have to be confirmed by a blood test in a laboratory.
"To some extent, also increasing alcohol consumption as well as the increase in traffic and cars are to be blamed for the growth in the number of intoxicated drivers. On the other hand, the current growth has no connection with the lowering of alcohol taxation in March. The reduction will have a delayed effect on the figures", says Seppä.
In an interview published by the daily newspaper Suomenmaa, Minister of Justice Johannes Koskinen and Chief of the Mobile Police Teuvo Veijalainen both call for more severe punishments in cases of repeated drunken driving. This is possible according to the existing penal code wording on intoxicated driving. Furthermore, Managing Director Matti Järvinen of Liikenneturva (The Central Organization for Traffic Safety in Finland) adds that the number of intoxicated drivers is apparently still increasing and the punishments should be tightened overall.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Record number of drivers test positive for drugs (13.10.2003)
Helsinki police report sharp increase in drugged drivers (5.12.2003)
Liikenneturva - The Central Organization for Traffic Safety in Finland