Police catch hundreds of drugged drivers

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2012

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Dreamy, clammy, drooling or overemotional – the tell-tale signs of a drugged driver have led to hundreds of people being netted since the new laws were introduced.

Figures released to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act show 514 people appeared sufficiently out of it for police to perform a compulsory impairment test on them since the Land Transport Amendment Act was introduced in November 2009.

Of these, 455 struggled to walk nine steps and turn without wandering off the line – stopping, miscounting the number of steps, not understanding the instructions or having to use their arms for balance.

Under the law, a police officer who suspects a driver of being impaired can require the driver to carry out a compulsory impairment test. This measures co-ordination, physiological reactions and markers for drug impairment such as pupil dilation.

As well as requiring them to walk in a straight line, police must check the driver's behaviour against a list of possible signs of drug use – including slurred or incoherent speech, dilated pupils, and flushed or clammy skin.

They might also be making jerky movements, drooling, scratching, or appear dreamy or anxious.

A driver who fails must undergo a blood test and can then be charged with driving while impaired, which carries similar penalties to those for drink-driving.

Of the 455 drivers who failed the impairment test since 2009, 429 tested positive for one or more drugs.

National road policing manager, Superintendent Paula Rose, said she was in no doubt that removing drugged drivers from the road had a direct impact on the road toll. About a third of the people who died on the road last year were either alcohol or drug impaired.

The final 2011 road toll of 284 was almost 100 fewer than 2010 and the lowest since 1952. "It is certainly an indication that we have got safer people on our roads ... to be perfectly blunt, if you are impaired in any way by alcohol or drugs you are just a risk. Our job is to save lives."

Duty Minister Chris Finlayson said the reform had succeeded in giving police a tool to get impaired drivers off our roads.

"Driving drunk or impaired by drugs is not worth the risk to others on the road, or the driver who faces the real risk of detection and prosecution."

The Transport Ministry will review Land Transport Amendment Act 2009 this year, while police were investigating the effectiveness of drug tests being developed overseas.

CANNABIS KEY DRUG DETECTED

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The most common drug detected in blood samples from 455 drivers was THC, the active chemical in cannabis. More than half of the drivers – 297 – tested positive for it.

Amphetamines were the next most prevalent, with 69 people found to be under the influence of methamphetamine or BZP.

A further 44 drivers had taken sedatives, while 34 were high on opiates such as methadone or morphine.

Of all the drivers tested, only 26 passed the test and did not test positive for any drug.

The majority were disqualified from driving and given a fine or community work, with 15 sent to jail and six given home detention.

The most drugged drivers were netted in Bay of Plenty, with 89 found under the influence.

The least drugged drivers were in Counties-Manukau, with 13 caught.

* More than one drug type can be detected in each test.

- The Dominion Post

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