POLICE CALL FOR ROADSIDE DRUG TESTING

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    POLICE CALL FOR ROADSIDE DRUG TESTING

    Nelson police estimate that 10 to 20 percent of the region's fatal road
    accidents are linked to the use of illegal drugs.

    Road policing manager Inspector Hugh Flower said it was estimated that a
    similar percentage of the region's non-fatal road accidents also involved
    drivers under the influence of drugs.

    Cannabis was thought to be the main culprit as it had been found in blood
    tests carried out on accident victims and collected as evidence from crash
    sites, Mr Flower said.

    There have been calls for a national crackdown on drivers who get behind the
    wheel after taking illicit substances.

    New Zealand police are considering the introduction of a device that could
    detect drugged drivers at roadside testing, similar to that used for
    detecting alcohol.

    The proposal was announced by the Government in a recent road safety
    package.

    Mr Flower said he would support the introduction of such a device if it
    enabled police to make the region's roads safer.

    Police currently had the power to carry out a blood test or order a medical
    examination if they suspected a driver was on drugs. But Mr Flower was
    unsure how often police actually used this measure.

    He said it would depend on an officer's experience and their ability to spot
    the physical signs of drug impairment.

    "We have to rely on the cop's instincts and their observations at the time.

    "I think what's needed is a device so we can roadside test for cannabis or
    any other drug. But the technology for that is still a work in progress."

    Retired road accident researcher John Bailey said autopsy results on 438 New
    Zealand drivers killed in 1995-96 revealed that 21 percent had detectable
    cannabis in their blood.

    Mr Bailey said police rarely carried out blood tests on suspected drugged
    drivers because it cost considerably more to test for cannabis than it did
    for alcohol.

    Nelson Automobile Association chairman Pat Pascoe said he would support the
    introduction of a roadside drug-testing device.

    Mr Pascoe said the AA had campaigned for the introduction of drug testing as
    an alternative to the Government's recently ditched proposal to lower the
    alcohol level.

    "Let's get on to the real cause of it (road accidents) rather than mucking
    around with minor things that are going to affect a large number of people


    with no gain."
     
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