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Establishing a High-Risk Offender Scheme for Drug-Drivers

The North Report recognised the absence of a High-Risk Offender (HRO) Scheme for individuals convicted of driving under the influence of drugs, who pose the threat of repeat offending. The Department for Transport (DfT) considered options for developing such a scheme following the introduction of Section 5A (1) and (2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 [2]. The DfT made a commitment in the 2015 Road Safety Statement to consult on the matter and the 2019 Road Safety Statement recognised the need to seek advice from experts to explore options for developing a High-Risk Offender (HRO) scheme for drug drivers. To deliver this goal the DfT convened a Panel of experts chaired by Professor Wolff to assess options using relevant clinical, scientific, and professional expertise to make recommendations for a new scheme.

The practical consequence of becoming a High-Risk Drink-Drive Offender is that the driver’s licence is not automatically re-issued once the period of disqualification has ended. Instead, the HRO must apply for a new licence and the Driver Vehicle & Licensing Agency (DVLA) will only issue a licence after a satisfactory medical assessment. Evaluation of the existing HRO drink-driver scheme established that those who had committed previous drink-drive offences were more likely than other HROs to re-offend. The HRO scheme for drink-drivers has thus served an important role in helping to keep unsafe drivers off the roads and has set a precedent for the establishment of a similar scheme for high-risk drug-drivers.

HRO scheme for drink-drivers includes reference to different offence codes and has been updated according to regulatory changes that have taken place since the scheme was established. The Panel agreed that the criteria for the HRO scheme for drug-drivers would rely as much as possible upon data currently available concerning drug-drivers in the Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A process of triangulation of research data and information management data on numbers of drink- and drug-drive offenders would be employed. The Department for Transport Expert Panel (2013) previously used this method successfully: that is national epidemiological data was used to identify population level drug-use figures and these were cross-referenced against sub-populations of high-risk drivers. This enabled the Panel to gauge the extent of the problem of driving-under-the-influence of drugs and make recommendations accordingly.

Dr Duncan Harding


Atholl Johnston


Dr Eilish Gilvarry

Honorary Professor

Dr Jane Marshall

Honorary Senior Lecturer


To produce recommendations for the introduction of a High-Risk Offender Scheme for drug-drivers


An evaluation was undertaken to determine if the criteria published in the 2013 Driving unde the influence of drugs report would be appropriate, taking into consideration the cut-off concentrations detailed in Section 5A (1) and (2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.


Professor Wolff’s research concerned with drink and drug driving has been submitted as a case impact study in the 2014 Research Assessment Exercise:  Carbohydrate Deficient Transferrin as a diagnostic tool for the detection of continued drinking in high-risk drink drivers and a further case impact study in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework Improving Road Safety by Supporting New Drink- and Drug-Driving Legislation in England and Wales.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: Department for Transport

Amount: N/A

Period: January 2019 - March 2022