Friday 24 May 2019

Garda PULSE system to record drug and alcohol test kit numbers and readings

Until now, only the number of drivers breathalysed needed to be included
Until now, only the number of drivers breathalysed needed to be included

Ralph Riegel

Gardai are to amend the PULSE computer system to allow for Drager drug and alcohol test kit numbers and their readings to be included after use at checkpoints and collisions.

The move, which must be implemented during the twice yearly maintenance shutdowns of the PULSE system, is aimed at offering a better analysis of the scale of Ireland's drug and alcohol driving problem.

Tommy Broughan TD has been campaigning for the inclusion at the request of road safety groups including PARC.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has now confirmed that the PULSE collision reporting form will now be changed to ensure that individual Drager kit numbers are included in reports compiled by gardaí at checkpoint duty and attending the scene of a serious RTC.

The readings obtained from such kits after use will also be included.

Mr Flanagan acknowledged that, until now, only the number of drivers breathalysed needed to be included.

"I am now advised by the Garda authorities that the change request to ensure that the Drager devices number and readings are captured on the collision report form is being incorporated in the present upgrade to the PULSE system which is presently undergoing final testing," he said.

PARC founder Susan Gray said the change was absolutely essential given the problems caused by recent garda traffic reporting statistics.

She has demanded greater resources for the Garda traffic corps amid fears drug driving is set to prove as deadly a problem as drink driving.

PARC warned that the statistics indicated motorists driving under the influence of drugs is a problem significantly greater than initially feared.

Mrs Gray also expressed "deep concern" that a mere 1pc of tests conducted at checkpoints involved the new oral fluid sampling.

The PARC founder also queried whether a failure rate of 15pc indicated a vastly bigger problem with drug driving than initially feared.

The PULSE change came as it emerged that just 1pc of Garda checkpoints conducted over a nine month period involved a new screening test for suspected drug driving.

That was despite the fact that, since new Road Traffic Act regulations came into force last April, one-in-seven tests conducted on motorists have been positive for suspected use of drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and opiates.

Mr Flanagan has confirmed that of 52,395 mandatory intoxicant tests (MIT) conducted by Gardaí from April 13 until January 1 last, a mere 612 were for the new oral fluid drug screening test permitted under the revised regulations.

Of those 612 tests conducted, a startling total of 90 gave a preliminary positive for the suspected use of drugs - a failure rate of almost 15pc.

Over the nine months in which the new oral fluid test was conducted, the rate of positive detections increased by a startling 700pc.

A total of 90 motorists have tested positive for drug driving at routine roadside checkpoints since new regulations came into force on April 12 last.

The new provision of the Road Traffic Act (2016) allows Gardai to conduct preliminary drug detection testing at roadside checkpoints.

The test is conducted using the Drager 5000 analysis device.

This can given Gardai a preliminary indicator of the presence in a motorist's saliva of traces of cannabis, cocaine, opiates such as heroin, and even benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium.

A prosecution will follow if the motorist fails a subsequent impairment test.

Of the 90 motorists who tested positive at roadside checks since April 12, just one subsequently passed the follow on impairment test.

In nine months of testing, April yielded the lowest positive test tally with three motorists failing preliminary Drager tests.

However, that had soared to 22 motorists failing preliminary roadside drug tests in December - an increase of almost 700pc.

August delivered the second highest test fail total with 15 motorists testing positive in preliminary scans for the use of drugs.

Experts pointed to the fact that both high test fail totals directly correspond to known periods of intense social activity such as summer and Christmas

Mr Flanagan confirmed that 52,395 mandatory checkpoints were conducted under the new regulations since April.

Roughly 99pc involved drink driving tests.

PARC warned that the statistics add further weight to the demand for greater resources and equipment for the Garda traffic corps.

"There is clearly a problem with people getting behind the wheel and driving while under the influence of drugs," Mrs Gray said.

"We need to provide the resources for the Gardai to tackle this problem which is every bit as deadly as people getting behind the wheel and driving while intoxicated."

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