Thursday 27 November 2014

Drivers to face 15-minute wait for test results

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

The Bank Holiday is a time of tragedy on the roads and in places where people go to enjoy themselves. It does not have to be so.
The Bank Holiday is a time of tragedy on the roads and in places where people go to enjoy themselves. It does not have to be so.

MOTORISTS will be forced to endure 15-minute delays on the side of the road when new mandatory drugs tests come into effect, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Unlike breathalyser tests, which can take just a minute to complete, the new drugs test will require motorists to wait at roadside checkpoints for at least a quarter of an hour until the results are known.

Medical Bureau for Road Safety chief Professor Denis Cusack told the Sunday Independent the test would take that length of time as the device used will be analysing saliva for traces of up to seven different drugs.

"In comparison to the breathalyser, it is longer, about 15 minutes or so," said Prof Cusack. "But remember you are testing for several substances and also you can't use breath. It has to be oral fluid. So there is no doubt it is going to take longer."

When asked about the potential for traffic delays due to the length of time involved in each test, the professor said it would be up to gardai to choose the particular point in the road where checkpoints are situated. The long awaited test is finally expected to be in operation in early 2015.

It will be used in conjunction with standard roadside impairment tests, which require motorists to perform simple co-ordination tasks such as walking a straight line or standing on one leg.

The use of the device is set to be underpinned by legislation being planned by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, which will strengthen legal provisions relating to driving while impaired.

A spokesman for the minister said he was not unduly concerned about the potential for traffic delays as a result of the test.

"It is all about saving lives at the end of the day," the spokesman said.

If a motorist returns a positive test, they would then be brought to a garda station to provide a blood sample, which would be sent for laboratory analysis.

Advertisements inviting companies to tender for the contract to produce the hand-held testing devices will be published over the summer months, said Prof Cusack.

The bureau has been setting up a testing laboratory in recent months and will use this to evaluate devices before one is picked. The process will seek to ensure that the test will be able to withstand legal challenge.

Prof Cusack said that in the end it may not be possible to have a device which accurately tests for all of the drugs on the Government's wish list – cannabis, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, methadone and opiates – and they may have to settle for a lesser number.

The device used in the Australian state of Victoria, for example, only tests for three drugs, cannabis, ecstasy and methamphetamine.

"There are seven drugs or classes of drugs. But there is no point in having the most number if it doesn't come up to accuracy and standards," he said.

Ultimately the decision will be based on a number of criteria, said Prof Cusack, including how many drugs a device can test for, how accurate the device is and how user friendly it is.

He said it would be important that the device would be "as easy to use as possible for the driver and is easy to administer for the gardai".

A further consideration is whether the machine will be future proofed, so it can possibly deal with new or synthetic drugs which may be identified as problems in the future.

"Obviously as the years go by, our plan would be that the programme could be expanded if and when further substances become available for roadside testing," he said.

The extent of the drug driving problem is unknown, but there is evidence to suggest a substantial proportion of motorists drive while under the influence of drugs.

The bureau analysed 2,000 blood samples from motorists in 2012 and found 15 per cent of these tested positive for one or more drugs.

Sunday Independent

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