Tests Driving Drug-Affected Motorists Off the Road

Victoria’s world-first random roadside saliva tests have highlighted an alarming rate of drug use among drivers, the Minister for Police & Emergency Services, Tim Holding, said today.Mr Holding said independent laboratory analysis had shown drug driving was more than three times as prevalent as drink driving, with one in every 73 drivers testing positive for cannabis or methamphetamine-based drugs. This compares to an average of one in every 250 drivers who are breathalysed testing positive for alcohol.

“Drug driving tests have been an outstanding success in reliably identifying drivers whose capacity to drive is dangerously compromised,” Mr Holding said. “There can be no mistake that driving under the influence of illicit drugs is just as dangerous as driving while affected by alcohol and is a major contributor to death and trauma on Victoria’s roads.

“The first four months of the saliva drug testing program have identified a worrying level of substance use among drivers that will not be tolerated.” Mr Holding said a three-step process ensured the integrity of the tests. Drivers are initially asked to provide a saliva sample by placing a small absorbent pad on their tongue for a few seconds.

Drivers who return a positive test are then asked to accompany police into a drug bus, similar to a booze bus, for two further saliva samples – one to be kept by the driver and the other for further on-the-spot analysis. If this indicates a positive result, the sample is sent to a laboratory for verification. Motorists who return positive laboratory results for cannabis or methamphetamines are fined $307 and lose three demerit points, or are prosecuted in court. If the offence progresses to court, the maximum penalty for a first offence is $614 and three months’ licence cancellation. Subsequent convictions can result in fines of up to $1227 and up to six months’ licence cancellation.

Mr Holding said in the four months to 17 March 2005, a total of 4619 drivers were tested, with 63 drivers testing positive for drugs. He said 21 drivers tested positive for cannabis and methamphetamine-based drugs. Five drivers tested positive for only cannabis, with 37 testing positive to only methamphetamine-based drugs.

Of the 3488 car drivers tested, 47 returned a positive result. Sixteen out of 1131 truck drivers tested positive for drugs. Eight preliminary tests were not confirmed by the drug bus.

Mr Holding said test handling procedures had been reviewed after three drivers’ final tests ultimately came up negative in the very early stages of the program. “Independent laboratory tests since have conclusively verified the accuracy of saliva drug testing,” Mr Holding said.

Source: Minister for Police & Emergency Services. Australia April’05


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