24 Aug 2016

Drivers could face on-the-spot saliva tests

6:35 pm on 24 August 2016

Drivers could soon have to provide police with saliva samples for immediate screening for illegal drugs.

A police checkpoint at Mana, Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss is taking a proposal to Cabinet to introduce roadside saliva drug-testing for drivers.

Until now, the government has refused to introduce saliva testing due to concerns about accuracy.

Tukituki MP Craig Foss. 19 August 2016.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

But Mr Foss said testing methods had come a long way.

"Well, technology has moved a lot, and at the moment the current regime has been in place for quite some time, but technology has allowed better testing I understand, and maybe easier testing as well," Mr Foss said.

"First and foremost it's about road safety and harm on our roads - too many people die on our roads, and sadly drink[-driving], fleeing from police, not being restrained, distractions and/or drugs - or a mixture of the whole lot - are about two thirds of our road toll."

Mr Foss wouldn't say whether his proposal would involve random roadside testing of drivers, as done in some states in Australia, or something more targetted.

"It's far far too early to go down to any kind of detail like that," Mr Foss said.

Current tests are working - Labour

Police currently use roadside impairment tests if they believe drivers have used drugs - where drivers perform a series of co-ordination tests and, if they fail, their blood is tested.

This form of testing seems to be highly effective.

Blood test results in 2011 showed 94 percent of drivers who failed the roadside police impairment tests had drugs in their system.

Labour's transport spokesperson, Sue Moroney, couldn't understand why the government would what to change what was a successful formula.

"The impairment test does seem to be very accurate and seems to be a way of directly targetting the issue.

"So if police officers have a concern that someone is under the influence of drugs and should not be driving then they have been quite successful in being able to determine that."

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said drugged driving was a serious problem that needed to be addressed.

But he said roadside saliva testing would still miss many drugged drivers.

"It doesn't test for all the impairing drugs that are out there. It'll test for cannabis, meth and ecstacy, but it will miss, one, the most drugs, which is a lot of the prescription medicines that are out there."

Mr Bell didn't believe the saliva tests were accurate enough and said they frequently produced false positives and false negatives.

The government could put energy into trying to educate drivers about the dangers of driving on many prescription medications, he said.

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