Training planned to help traffic police spot drug-drivers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am

If a proposed law to combat drug-driving is approved, all frontline traffic police officers will be trained to recognise signs that drivers have taken drugs before they do preliminary tests at the roadside or a police station.

People suspected of driving under the influence of drugs could also have their licences seized for a day while undergoing tests.

'All officers will be trained to perform a drug influence recognition observation, and about 40 to 50 will be trained and accredited to do the impairment tests,' said Superintendent Stephen Verralls.

The officers will learn to watch out for constricted eyes, a sign of having taken heroin, or red eyes, common in cannabis users, police consultant Stephen Collier, a British instructor on drug-driving training, said.

Officers will also observe a driver's general reactions and speech through five-minute interactions at the roadside.

If a police officer thinks a driver has taken drugs, he will be required to have a rapid oral fluid test, also on the spot.

If the test shows the driver is under the influence of a drug, he will be taken to a nearby police station for a video-taped impairment test by a specially trained and accredited officer.

The procedures were spelled out yesterday ahead of discussion of the proposals by a Legco panel today.

The Transport and Housing Bureau expects to introduce the bill to Legco in the second quarter of next year.

Verralls said the impairment test in Britain had a 'very high' accuracy rate of 94 per cent, and a rate of 95 per cent in the Australian state of Victoria. The test, which takes about 30 minutes, consists of an eye examination, balance test, walk-and-run test, finger-to-nose test and a check of the driver's ability to stand on one leg.

Finally, a blood or urine sample will be taken if necessary.

Under existing laws, it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of properly controlling a vehicle, but police have no power to carry out preliminary tests. The number of drug-driving incidents recorded rose from four in 2008 and 11 last year to 67 in the first 10 months of this year.

A government spokesman said it had consulted the Department of Justice about suspending licences. Under the proposal, any suspected drug-driver would undergo a five-minute roadside assessment. If drivers were found to have taken ketamine, cocaine, Ice, heroin, Ecstasy or cannabis, they would be charged immediately. The proposed maximum penalties for drug-driving are a HK$25,000 fine, three years' jail and a two-year licence suspension.