New Zealand has one of the highest levels of cannabis usage in the world, and the Transport Agency says two-thirds of these users admit to driving while drug-impaired.
They now face a Government crack-down, with plans to introduce a new testing programme, including road-side saliva tests.
"The Government has already introduced a number of measures targeting drink driving but we needed more research to understand how drug driving enforcement could be carried out most effectively," says Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss. "The Ministry of Transport has completed a review of the drug-driving enforcement regime and I expect Cabinet to consider its findings in the next few months."
A 2012 government review found saliva testing was "unlikely to detect half of the users", and the decision was made to wait until screening technology was more effective. While the tests have improved since then, the initial tests can still take up to five minutes, which means police would only use them when they suspect a driver is on drugs. This would need to be followed up by a blood test to confirm a positive result.
Labour's police spokesperson Stuart Nash agrees the move is necessary. "Absolutely - anything that gets the impaired drivers off our roads needs to be rushed in," he says. "The police and NZTA are realising that it's not just alcohol, that it's drugs that matter." He says that drug-impaired drivers are a threat on the roads, and are killing New Zealanders. "It's now becoming a real problem that the police are having to deal with. I trust that the police will be leaders in implementing technology that allows us to catch these drivers."
However, the Drug Foundation's Ross Bell, believes there are too many problems with saliva tests for them to be reliable. "There's been problems with false positives and false negatives, and they don't test for drugs that can be really impairing - a lot of prescription medicines don't get picked up by these tests."
24 August 2016
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