Road safety campaigners have demanded action to stop drivers taking ‘hippy-crack’ behind the wheel, amid fears its use is rife.
Videos and photos shared on social media suggest drivers inhaling nitrous oxide gas from balloons is widespread.
But while driving while high is illegal, the substance, also known as laughing gas, stays in the body only a short time and drug test kits cannot trace it, the Campaign Against Drink Driving said. Also, possessing the gas is not a crime – unless it can be proved there is an intention to supply.
Ex-traffic officer and CADD trustee John Scruby said: “Photographs have appeared online and in social media posts of drivers inhaling the gas, usually by filling a balloon and inhaling it.
“It’s shocking to witness and we at CADD support any procedure to rid drink and drug-drivers from our streets. The use of the substance is becoming increasingly popular, particularly amongst the younger age-range of driver.”
In one alleged incident last month, a man was filmed clutching a balloon while driving his gold Mercedes car near Hyde Park in Central London.
Cyclist Mike Van Erp, who captured the footage on his helmet cam, can be heard asking the driver why he is consuming nitrous oxide – only for the man to shrug and drive off. Mr Van Erp said he reported the incident to the Met Police but has yet to receive a response.
The 50-year-old, known as CyclingMikey, called for a change in the law that meant drivers found in possession of nitrous oxide could be prosecuted.
He said: “I’m against the use of any drugs that impair driving because of the danger [it] puts on innocent people. My dad was killed on his motorcycle by a drunk driver when I was 19.
“I’m in agreement with CADD, I’d like to see some sort of change in the law.”
Last month, Bradford crown court heard how banned and uninsured driver Zamir Shah, 27, inhaled nitrous oxide before crashing his VW Golf while overtaking in June 2021. His 18-year-old passenger suffered fractures to her ribs, spine and arm.
Shah, of Girlington, Bradford, pleaded guilty to a causing injury by dangerous driving and was jailed for 42 months.
Judge Richard Mansell QC told him: “The effects of laughing gas are such that nobody should be inhaling this stuff whilst driving as it makes users disinhibited.”
In June, Labour councillor Nazam Azam said he had seen “a lot more” drivers taking hippy crack in Bradford.
Mr Scruby said he believed young drivers needed to be educated about the dangers of the substance. He added: “Changing the attitudes of some in this age group is challenging but not impossible.”