Saliva-tests call after arrests for drug-driving

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2010, 12:00am

The government is considering introducing a saliva test to screen drivers for drugs and tough new legislation after another driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

The arrest of the 29-year-old man yesterday, the seventh driver in five weeks suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, came as police admitted they had enforcement difficulties because they did not have the power to compel a driver to provide a sample of body fluids to test for drugs.

In yesterday's incident, the driver lost control of his vehicle on the Sha Tin-bound lane of Waterloo Road at about 1am. His car crashed into the central divider, broke railings and mounted the divider. The driver suffered minor injuries to his left hand, waist and back and was treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Initial investigation showed that the man had taken a suspected illegal drug. A blood sample was taken, according to a police officer. No drugs were found on him or in the car.

Police said his driving licence had been suspended.

Yesterday's crash followed another incident on Monday in which a driver was arrested in Kwai Chung for driving under the influence of drugs.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said yesterday that the administration was studying how other countries tackled drug-driving.

'We are studying the introduction of legislation to help police enforce the law and collect evidence to deter drug-driving. Introducing a stiffer penalty is under consideration,' a bureau spokeswoman said.

Drug-driving is an offence under the Road Traffic Ordinance. Convicted drivers have their licence suspended for a minimum of three months and face jail for up to three years and a fine of HK$25,000.

However, police are not empowered to require a driver to provide a sample of body fluids for drug tests.

In Singapore, Britain and the state of Arizona in the United States, the law stipulates that a police officer may require a suspect to provide a blood or urine sample for drug testing. Refusal is an offence.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng told Legco last May that testing for drug-driving was a complex issue as it involved striking a balance between human rights and the right to privacy.

Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, deputy chairman of Legco transport panel, said yesterday that the government should seriously consider introducing screening, as more drivers were being arrested on suspicion of driving under influence of drugs. 'The government could target testing on dangerous drugs instead of those off-the-counter medicines such as painkillers and cough mixture,' he said.

Lawmaker Lau Kong-wah said the government should study the drug-driving test very carefully and ensure proper consultation before implementation.

The Transport Department is leading a working group - which includes the police, Department of Health and government laboratory - on the drug-driving issue.