Sunday 4 December 2016

What the new roadside drug tests will mean for us drivers

* Important that those on medication consult their doctor, our Road Safety Authority expert says

Published 29/04/2015 | 02:30

New roadside tests will allow Gardai to determine if someone is driving under the influence of drugs
New roadside tests will allow Gardai to determine if someone is driving under the influence of drugs

New roadside drug tests are on the way. That is the big news from the proposed new Road Traffic Bill 2015.

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The Road Safety Authority and other government agencies appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transportation and Communications last week to assist the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

It is a timely development as there has been an increase in road deaths over the last two years. New measures are needed to tackle road-safety challenges.

The economy is picking up and there is an increase in new-vehicle sales. So there are more on the road and more kilometres being covered. There are also more people looking for a theory test, a learner permit and a driving test. All positive signs, but it means road users now face increasing risks as a result.

The biggest measure in the Bill is the one that will introduce chemical roadside testing to tackle drug driving. It was described in the committee as a 'very significant advance in the measures relating to drug driving'.

Professor Cusack, head of the Medial Bureau of Road Safety, the state body for testing blood and urine specimens taken by gardaí, told the Committee that driving under the influence of drugs remains a significant problem.

Approximately one-in-ten drivers killed in crashes has a positive toxicology for a drug, or drugs. That clearly justifies the need for a device, similar to the roadside breathalyser for alcohol, to tackle the problem. We also know there is strong public support for this testing, as an attitude survey of 1,000 motorists conducted by the RSA last November showed 93pc agree gardai should have the power to conduct roadside testing.

Process

Professor Cusack outlined that a two-step process has been identified. The first is the introduction of a field impairment test at the roadside. This was introduced back in December of last year. The Roadside Impairment Test provides gardai with additional powers to test drivers whom they suspect of driving under the influence of drugs.

The second step, which is being provided for in the proposed new Bill, will mean the introduction of roadside chemical testing modelled on the successful mandatory alcohol screening.

When in use it will test for certain key drugs, like cannabis, cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines - the drugs most commonly found in drivers.

The committee raised an important point. They are concerned that people taking prescription or over-the-counter medicine would end up falling foul of these new powers. In response a message needs to go out loud and clear that if you are taking medicines under the direction of your doctor or pharmacist and you heed their advice on driving, you have absolutely nothing to fear.

Obviously, if someone takes or changes their medication and they feel groggy, then they shouldn't be driving. If you abuse such medicine you are a danger to yourself and others. And that's the main point of the new measure to tackle drug driving. It's not about illegal drugs or prescription drugs it's about impairment and safe driving.

The penalties for drug driving will be similar to drink driving, but higher penalties will apply where a person is found driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.

There is no doubt that with such additional powers and tough penalties more drug drivers will be apprehended by gardaí. Just like Mandatory Alcohol Testing, fear of being arrested and losing their licence will force these drivers to reconsider such dangerous behaviour.

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