An increasing number of Northland road fatalities involve drugs; blood tests show nearly 40 per cent of those killed in crashes this year had methamphetamine or cannabis in their system.
The facts were revealed during a police presentation at the Northland Road Transport Committee meeting in Whangārei on Wednesday.
Thirteen people have died on Northland's roads between January 1 and June 4 this year.
Police have had blood tests completed on 10 of the people killed in the crashes and the results have shown five had either methamphetamine or cannabis in their blood.
Of those five, three had both methamphetamine and cannabis, one person had methamphetamine and alcohol, and the other had cannabis and alcohol in their system.
The blood test results for three other fatal crashes were yet to be received by police but they suspected at least one more would show positive use of methamphetamine or cannabis after both the drugs were found in the deceased's vehicle.
The increase in methamphetamine and fatal crashes comes after data released last monthindicated those in Whangārei were the biggest consumers of methamphetamine in the country, based on a nationwide wastewater testing regime.
Nationally, a report released last year showed drug-impaired drivers were involved in more fatal crashes on New Zealand roads than over-the-limit drink-drivers.
A study by the Automobile Association (AA) found 79 drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017 later tested positive for drugs, compared to 74 who were above the legal alcohol limit or refused to be tested.
Those policing the roads in Northland are concerned the statistics show methamphetamine is an increasing feature in fatal crashes.
In Northland in 2017, 40 people were killed. Tests showed six deaths involved drugs. In 2018, of the 35 fatalities, five were found to have drugs in their blood.
Inspector Wayne Ewers said police in Northland were doing everything they could to get people off methamphetamine as well as targeting and holding those dealing the addictive drug accountable.
He was concerned, but not surprised by the increased presence of meth in fatal crashes.
"Meth is just bad news and people out there on the roads driving drug-affected don't think about their safety or the safety of others."
Senior Sergeant Ian Row has also seen first hand the aftermath of a double fatal road crash at Hukerenui in 2017. He and Ewers were the first people on the scene.
Row said the car was so badly damaged it was only recognisable by the car badge on the boot - it was a Holden Commodore.
"It was absolutely destroyed ... and the driver and passenger were killed instantly."
In that case the driver was coming down off a methamphetamine high, fell asleep, crossed the centre line and collided head on with a light truck.
Row said when drivers were on meth they were animated, had an animated sense of wellbeing and thought they were bulletproof.
"The drug is all-round bad news and it's gangs who are pushing it on to young people and in particular young women. They get them hooked and then tell them they have a debt to pay."
Row said the message for the public was simple.
"Don't drink or don't take drugs when you're going to drive."
New Zealand Drug Foundation has found drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash if affected by alcohol, drugs or prescription medications when driving.
If a police officer has good cause to suspect a driver is under the influence of drugs, the officer can request the driver undergo a Compulsory Impairment Test (CIT).
Grounds for having good cause to suspect include erratic driving or, if the driver has been stopped for another reason, appearing to be under the influence of drugs.
For example, a driver stopped at a check point who is behaving in an intoxicated manner but passes a breath alcohol test.
The CIT involves:
• An eye assessment - pupil size, reaction to light, lack of convergence.
• Walk a straight line and turn assessment.
• A one-leg-stand assessment.
• Touch the end of nose with finger.
If the driver fails to pass the impairment test, the police may forbid the driver to operate a vehicle for 12 hours and may require a blood sample.
In May, the Government announced it was seeking public feedback on ways to improve roadside drug-testing, including what drugs should be tested for and what the penalties should be.
Analysis of blood samples from drivers killed in crashes between January 2014 and May 2018 showed 29 per cent had used alcohol, 27 per cent had used cannabis, 10 per cent had used methamphetamine and another 15 per cent had used other drugs.
Over the same period, blood samples of drivers stopped by police and determined to be impaired by drugs showed 59 per cent had used cannabis and 41 per cent had used methamphetamine.
Of the drivers caught drink-driving in New Zealand, more than a quarter also tested positive for recent cannabis use.
The public will have until June 28 to have their say on the document, which is seeking feedback on:
• The methods that could be used to screen and test for drugs.
• The circumstances in which a driver should be tested.
• What drugs should be tested for.
• How an offence for drug driving should be dealt with by police.
Saliva testing is done in jurisdictions overseas, although there are questions over the accuracy of some.
Tests also have their limitations in that they cannot measure impairment, nor test for the presence of synthetics and designer drugs.
Oral swab tests are expensive, $20 to $45 each, compared with a few cents for an alcohol breath test.