Government asks for public input on drug driving tests

The Government is asking for the public's view on testing drug driving, after calls for its introduction to New Zealand roads have gathered momentum.

Source: 1 NEWS

It comes after a petition urging the Government to launch random roadside drug testing was re-opened this week after the family of south Taranaki crash victims joined forces with Karen Dow, the mother of 23-year-old Matthew who was killed in an accident involving a driver who had taken methamphetamine.

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“It’s not sophisticated but it’s the best way to test for impairment,” the Green MP said. Source: Q+A

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said currently the law "makes it hard for police to carry out higher numbers of tests that could deter drug driving".

"Unlike alcohol testing, drug testing comes with some unique challenges, which is why we want expert and public input into the design process. For example, unlike alcohol breath tests, drug tests can only detect the presence of drugs or medication.

"They cannot test if a driver is impaired."

The discussion document stated that of the drivers killed in crashes in New Zealand between January 2014 and May 2018, 29 per cent had used alcohol, 27 per cent used cannabis and 10 per cent had used methamphetamine (drivers may have used more than one substance). 

Police Minister Stuart Nash said in 2018, 71 people were killed in crashes "where a driver was found to have drugs or medication in their system which may have impaired their driving".

"That compares to 109 deaths where a driver was found to have alcohol in their system. We need to do more to stop dangerous drivers getting behind the wheel and enforcement on our roads is a key part of this."

The discussion document also states that research carried out for NZTA found 25 per cent of prescriptions issued in New Zealand are for medication that can impair driving, however only 65 per cent of Kiwis were aware it was illegal to drive while impaired by medication.

Drug-driving tests currently see drivers either undergoing an impairment test (eye, walk and turn, and one-leg-stand assessment) or blood samples taken by drivers hospitalised following a crash (prosecution is only possible for those who test positive for Class A drugs). 

The Government want feedback on drug test methods, drug testing circumstances, what drugs should be tested and how a drug driving test should be dealt with by police. 

Consultation will end on June 28. In a statement, it said the Government "will be looking to confirm its options at the end of this year" on drug driving. 

The release of the discussion document comes earlier than expected, after deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told media on Monday it was expected to be released "not in a day or a week, because it requires one or two refinements".

"What we've got to make sure we've got first is the scientific utilities all over the country to ensure when you go for the test it is scientifically accurate, and we haven't got those utilities now," he said at the time. 

Mr Peters was also asked of the potential of drug-driving tests being introduced prior to the cannabis referendum at the 2020 election.

"You mean, if there is the potential for there to be a 'Yes' vote, it heightens the need for both the law, the men and women, and the scientific equipment to do the job? The answer is profoundly, yes."

Also on Monday, Green party drug reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said investment was needed to develop accurate drug-driving tests but "old school" testing of walking in a straight line was currently the best way to test for impairment. 

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“It’s not sophisticated but it’s the best way to test for impairment,” the Green MP said. Source: Q+A

She told TVNZ1's Q+A the issue of people driving while impaired by drugs is concerning many New Zealanders ahead of next year referendum on cannabis legalisation.

"We know what's on the table doesn't pick up prescription, doesn't pick up a number of products like synthetics", Ms Swarbrick said, and on cannabis, "there are a lot of false positives".

"There's a lot of testing going on at the moment to improve those regimes. We currently don’t have the perfect technological solution. What we do have is old school impairment testing," she said.

"Getting people, whether they are drunk or they are drugged walking a straight line, touching their nose…. No it’s not sophisticated but it’s the best way to test for impairment."

National's Simon Bridges said earlier this week  the technology was "more than reliable" for drug driving tests.

"We don't want to wait. I don't mind, whether it's the Government's bill, whether it's our bill, but we do just want action."

MP Nick Smith said the discussion document "will simply slow the process down while more New Zealanders lose their lives at the hands of drivers who make bad choices with drugs". 

"National believes we should get straight on and change the law. Parliament needs to show the same commitment and urgency to get drugged drivers off our roads that it did in getting rid of military-style semi-automatic guns."