The EU-funded project DRUID (Driving under the Influence of Drugs, Alcohol and Medicine) project is tackling the question of what impact psychoactive substances have on traffic safety. In order to gather reliable information in this area, where knowledge is still limited according to the project partners, the University of Ghent, Belgium, has started collecting blood and saliva samples from drivers involved in accidents, as well as drivers stopped for random checks.

Ultimately the Belgian researchers want to collect 4,000 samples in different parts of the country and at different times of the day, explained Professor Dr Alain Verstraete of the University of Ghent, in a CORDIS News interview. The same will be done by project partners in some of the other countries involved. This will show whether there is a difference between EU Member States.

Very few studies in this area have been carried out so far. Two studies in Australia and Germany showed, however, that driving under the influence (DUI) is not a problem that should be underestimated: around 1% of subjects that provided blood and saliva samples had taken illicit drugs, primarily cannabis/stimulants, and around 4% to 6 % had taken licit drugs, primarily stimulants, hypnotic or anxiolytic drugs, or drugs without impairing effect.

The samples in this study will be checked for 33 psychoactive substances, including alcohol and legal, medical drugs as well as illegal drugs. This will help researchers to document the actual impairment of people driving under the influence, and also draw conclusions on how concentration levels of substances as well as combinations of substances increase the risk of accidents, said Professor Verstraete. The team will then develop a 'yardstick' for the impairing effects of different substances on a common scale.

Participation in the sampling is voluntary, of course, a fact that might pose a problem when it comes to representativeness of the study, Professor Verstraete pointed out to CORDIS News. However, the sample collection has only just started, he added.

Coordinated by the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BAST), DRUID brings together the organisations and researchers throughout Europe, involving more than 20 European countries. It receives nearly €19 million in funding under the Sixth Framework Programme. After the project's completion, projected for autumn 2010, the results are expected to provide a solid base to generate harmonised, EU-wide regulations for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs and medicine. Currently, regulations vary from Member State to Member State, with some countries practising zero tolerance and others taking an impairment approach.

According to the White Paper on Transport published in September 2001, the European Commission, in the short term, aims to halve the number of road traffic fatalities by 2010. The medium-term objective is to cut by around 75% the number of persons killed or severely injured in road accidents by 2025, while the long-term vision is to render road transport as safe as all other modes of transport.

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