Drug driver menace in Hawke's Bay

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Drugged-driving is an emerging trend in Hawke's Bay, a local Roadsafe spokeswoman has warned.

"We've done some surveys around young people and the misconception is that it's safe to drive after taking drugs rather than driving drunk," Roadsafe spokeswoman Linda Anderson said.

Since the introduction of anti-drugged-driving legislation came into effect in November 2009, 583 people have been charged with the offence nationally - 22 from Hawke's Bay.

"We have been doing some work with younger people into the fact that you are equally as impaired after consuming drugs as [with] alcohol," Ms Anderson said.

She warned there was a lack of awareness around the risks but expected to see more anti-drug-driving campaigns launched nationwide to target the problem.

AA spokesman Dylan Thomsen said drugged-driving was the "elephant in the room" when it came to road safety.

"This is under-recognised as an issue on the roads.

"We have a huge focus on drink driving - and rightly so - but the evidence indicates that we have an equally large problem with people driving under the influence of drugs and we're not doing enough right now to target those people and keep them off the roads."

Mr Thomsen said more people were not picked up for drugged-driving because they had to be "incredibly out of it" for an officer to suspect they were, and specially trained officers had to be present to carry out the test. The AA wanted to see more random drug testing with saliva-testing machines - used in every state in Australia.

However, the Government is waiting for saliva-testing technology to improve before introducing it. A Government review in May concluded the testing devices were not reliable or fast enough to be effective.

Saliva screening took at least five minutes, was unlikely to detect half of cannabis users, and results were not reliable enough for criminal prosecution, the review found.

A recent Ministry of Transport study found more than half of the drivers taken to hospital after causing a crash had drugs in their system.

Prescription and illicit drugs were detected in 258 drivers, from 453 samples taken.

Ninety people sent to hospital had both cannabis and alcohol in their system.

Mr Thomsen said police were not administering the current drug testing regime often enough. A road safety campaigner had witnessed no drivers being drug-tested during 88 hours spent observing checkpoint practices, Mr Thomsen said.

Police can only drug-test drivers if they believe they are under the influence. The impairment test entails the driver being taken back to the closest police station where they undertake an eye assessment, followed by a walk and turn, and one-leg stand test. If a driver fails the test they must undergo a blood test.

National road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said the current drug-testing regime was "very much a work in progress".

"The New Zealand police does not have a quick and accurate test for drugs that can be conducted at the roadside as there is with alcohol.

"However, the intention of the [drug driving] legislation is to remove impaired drivers from the roads, and therefore, if a driver is found to be under the influence of alcohol, police do not usually take this further and test for drugs also.

"The vast majority of impaired drivers are impaired by alcohol and at this stage we do not have accurate information as to the extent of drug-driving in New Zealand."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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