Road Transport Forum News

 
Roadside drug testing  a step closer

Roadside drug testing a step closer

Road Transport Forum News

 April 2021   

The Road Transport Forum has long advocated for roadside drug testing and I am pleased that, finally, this could be the year it becomes a reality.

While the time it has taken for a testing regime to come about is frustrating, legislation introduced in 2020 should be in place this year, giving police the power to conduct random roadside saliva-based testing of drivers they suspect are under the influence of drugs.

From its establishment, the RTF has had a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drug use in the transport industry. I’m encouraged by the fact the majority of operators support our position and regularly carry out drug testing of their staff. It’s time all motorists were subject to the same scrutiny, to ensure a higher level of road safety for all road users.

Data from Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency’s Crash Analysis System shows the number of fatalities from crashes where a driver has been found to have used drugs has increased to the point where they now outnumber the fatalities involving drivers who have exceeded the drink driving limits. The scary thing is that this is likely to under-represent the problem – because not all drivers involved in accidents are drug tested.

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The Road Transport Forum has long advocated for roadside drug testing and I am pleased that, finally, this could be the year it becomes a reality.

While the time it has taken for a testing regime to come about is frustrating, legislation introduced in 2020 should be in place this year, giving police the power to conduct random roadside saliva-based testing of drivers they suspect are under the influence of drugs.

From its establishment, the RTF has had a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drug use in the transport industry. I’m encouraged by the fact the majority of operators support our position and regularly carry out drug testing of their staff. It’s time all motorists were subject to the same scrutiny, to ensure a higher level of road safety for all road users.

Data from Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency’s Crash Analysis System shows the number of fatalities from crashes where a driver has been found to have used drugs has increased to the point where they now outnumber the fatalities involving drivers who have exceeded the drink driving limits. The scary thing is that this is likely to under-represent the problem – because not all drivers involved in accidents are drug tested.

It’s equally disheartening to see the Ministry of Transport statistics for 2019 show there were 137 fatal crashes, 286 serious injury crashes, and 1409 minor injury crashes where alcohol/drugs were a contributing factor. This resulted in 160 deaths, 391 serious injuries, and 1936 minor injuries. 

Quite frankly, the figures are appalling, and there should be provision in the law for drugged drivers who cause someone’s death to be given a higher penalty. I believe far too much emphasis is placed on the drugged drivers’ rights at the expense of those they kill and maim.

For commercial drivers, especially truck drivers, NZ’s public roads are their workplaces. These highly skilled drivers have to share their workplaces with members of the public who may not have the driving hours, skills, or drug-testing regimes that professional drivers have. 

Drug-impaired drivers on public roads present significant risk to commercial drivers, as well as every other road user. Despite their best efforts to safeguard the health and safety of their staff, transport operators are powerless to protect them from drugged drivers on public roads.

The RTF supports a harm minimisation approach to drug driving and wants to see adequate funds diverted to cover drug education and rehabilitation programmes. However, driving under the influence of drugs is a deliberate act and should be treated accordingly. No concession should be given to those drivers who flagrantly break the law and have no respect for other road users.

The RTF supports the establishment of a new random roadside oral fluid testing regime to sit alongside the current compulsory impairment test (CIT) approach to drug driving. 

However, the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill’s proposal that drivers would submit two consecutive oral fluid tests before there would be any infringement penalties, does not make any sense to me – there should be just one test, consistent with the drink-driving testing regime already in place. If there are to be two consecutive oral fluid tests, the reasons should be explicit.

I also hope that before the roadside drug testing comes into force, police staff are provided with all the necessary tools to test for drugs and will not be restricted to a process that excludes CIT or oral testing if one is done before the other. Rest assured, in an attempt to escape conviction, drug-drivers and their legal counsel will exploit any loopholes the testing process may uncover, so the process needs to be as robust as possible and apply to everyone equally.

NZ’s road toll is an embarrassment and must be taken seriously. Our members already have to deal with dangerous situations on the roads every day. Let’s give the police the powers to target at least one of those hazards. The RTF urges the Government to enact the Bill as soon as possible.


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