Time is right for drug-driving tests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am


The city lagged behind other advanced jurisdictions in introducing random breath-testing and tougher penalties for drink driving that fit a serious crime against society. Those deterrents were soon reflected in fewer cases of injury and death involving alcohol, with the strong inference that they are saving lives. That was good reason for the authorities to press ahead with the more complex issue of effective testing for driving under the influence of illicit drugs, an increasingly deadly peril on our roads. It is good news that from today specially trained traffic police officers will be able to conduct a battery of tests on drivers suspected of being unable to control their vehicles safely because of drug use. Officers can determine whether the drivers should be required to supply blood and urine samples that can be used in evidence.

About 200 officers out of 1,200 have been trained so far to conduct tests based on models in Australia, Britain, the US and Canada. The five-part impairment test, to be conducted at a police station, will assess alertness, the ability to process instructions and sense of balance, co-ordination and depth perception. Penalties include up to three years' jail and five years' disqualification from driving for a first offence and double that for a second.

Where traces of drugs are found in road accident victims there is no certainty they caused the crashes, but it is a worry. Surveys overseas reveal an alarming prevalence of drug-driving among people under 30, and we know a drug culture thrives among our city's young. The effects of drugs on driving are less studied than alcohol, but we know they impair the ability of users to think and respond normally because of drowsiness, loss of co-ordination, vision problems and aggressiveness.

Clearly, drug testing will be more difficult than for alcohol, because it cannot be based on acceptable levels of intake. Time will tell if the new approach is an effective deterrent or needs to be reviewed. But given the trend of drug use in the community, it is none too soon.