New Zealand's drug-driving scourge has been described as a "hidden epidemic", with latest figures showing hundreds of people have been caught stoned behind the wheel.

The figures, released to the Herald, show police caught 568 drugged drivers between the introduction of the anti-drug-driving law in November 2009 and February this year. The vast majority were men.

The problem has been highlighted in a recent series of TV ads showing the real-life reactions of secretly filmed New Zealanders when told the driver of their car is high on drugs.

The Automobile Association and the Drug Foundation said New Zealand's focus on drug-driving was still in its early stages.


"We are at the stage now with drugged driving where we were with alcohol 30 years ago," foundation executive director Ross Bell said.

"The whole alcohol culture change has been around ads, Breathalyser technology and having cops out on the road. With drugged driving, we are only just beginning to convince people that this is a problem, and that we need to deal with it.

"Our research shows there's a bit of a blase attitude among people who use drugs and drive ... They think it's an okay thing."

AA spokesman Dylan Thomsen said drugged driving was a "hidden epidemic on our roads".

He noted a recent study that found of 1046 drivers who died in crashes between 2004 and 2009, about 35 per cent had cannabis or other drugs in their system, either on their own or in combination with alcohol.

Other studies had found just one in 10 New Zealanders thought drugged driving was a problem on our roads and a third of the people who had used drugs in the last year said they had driven after taking them.

The two groups are at odds over whether the Government should adopt saliva testing used in Australia - one of the AA's election calls.

Mr Bell believed New Zealand had to settle for road-side impairment tests until technology enabled police to use a Breathalyser-style device.


A regional breakdown showed the Bay of Plenty consistently recorded the highest rate of prosecutions, making up a fifth of the national tally.

Bay of Plenty's road policing manager, Inspector Kevin Taylor, believed the rate reflected a continued focus by his staff on drugged drivers.

"My gut feeling is we have invested in training, the staff are pro-active in dealing with it, and there are a high number of available people to catch."

Bay of Plenty police took to the law change "with both hands" when it was introduced, Mr Taylor said.

"Our guys are stopping drink drivers at check-points pretty regularly, and we thought why not go the next step. We trained a significant number of staff, probably as many or more than most other districts."

The 116 drivers nabbed in the region compared with 70 caught in Waitemata, which had the second-highest rate, followed by the Central region, where 63 had been charged.

Counties-Manukau and the Eastern region showed the lowest totals - both 21 - and while most of the drivers caught nationally were aged between 25 and 39, teenagers still accounted for 20 per cent of the total.

Last year, sickness beneficiary Danny Kasipale, 36, was jailed for driving while high on cannabis and pills. He crashed into five cars while speeding along Dominion Rd in Auckland.

He said he felt he "just won Lotto".