'Get stoned drivers off the roads'

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2013
 Malcolm Barnett and his wife Sharlene in the memorial garden for Krystal
ANDREW WARNER
TOO LATE: Malcolm Barnett and his wife Sharlene in the memorial garden for Krystal, who was killed by a drugged driver.

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Motorists are calling on the Government to get drugged drivers off our roads by granting police the power to drug-test everyone they stop.

The Automobile Association, which represents 1.3 million motorists, says existing laws are not tough enough to deter drugged drivers.

It wants the Government to introduce legislation allowing police to randomly administer a saliva test for drugs whenever they pull someone over.

It also wants a new "impairment limit" written into law, which would be the drug equivalent of the proposed new blood-alcohol limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said it would also support a new "cocktail offence" by which drivers found with both alcohol and drugs in their system would face stiffer penalties.

National road policing manager Inspector Carey Griffiths said police were committed to reducing the harm caused by drugs and alcohol on the roads. The Ministry of Transport was working on strengthening drug-driving enforcement, he said.

The impact of any such decision "would be dependent on the nature and scope of what was being proposed, which at this stage is hypothetical". More detailed policy analysis would need to be carried out before police could accurately assess this.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee would not comment yesterday on the proposal but the Government has previously said it will investigate a "robust, cost-effective approach" to random roadside drug testing "as soon as practicable and justified", but it is yet to say when.

Noon said that time was now, as New Zealand was lagging behind the rest of the world when it came to dealing with drugged drivers.

Australian police already have the ability to test drivers' saliva for cannabis, methamphetamine and ecstasy at the roadside. Britain is also on the verge of introducing the tests.

Police here can test for drugs only if they have "good cause to suspect" a driver is impaired, meaning they must look stoned or have been driving erratically.

Suspects can be asked to do a "walk and turn" test or stand on one leg to test balance and co-ordination.

Those powers were granted back in November 2009, but police had tested only 906 drivers by the end of March this year. More than three million breath-alcohol tests are administered annually.

Noon said the existing drug test took too long, and police did not bother with it if a driver had already failed a breath-alcohol test. As a result, they were catching only "the tip of the iceberg" when it came to drugged drivers.

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An Environmental Science and Research study in 2010 found drugs in the systems of 35 per cent of 1046 drivers who died in crashes between 2004 and 2009.

'TESTS WOULD'VE SAVED KRYSTAL'

Malcolm Barnett feels confident his stepdaughter Krystal would be alive today if police had the power to randomly drug-test drivers.

In 2005, Leah Wai Peneha was high on methamphetamine while driving along State Highway 2 near Upper Hutt.

She drove 300 metres on the wrong side of the road and collided head-on with a car driven by Krystal Bennett, 18, who died in the crash, along with a 12-year-old passenger in Peneha's car.

At the time, Peneha used P up to five times a day.

"If these laws had been around way back then, this girl would've been off the road before she could have killed Krystal," Barnett said yesterday. "She would've been a prime candidate for getting caught."

Peneha was freed from jail earlier this year. Barnett said random drug tests would give him and his wife peace of mind knowing she was back on the streets.

"I think we're lagging behind the world in a lot of things and this is just one of them. There's so many things this country should be doing to curb this sort of behaviour," he said.

"Some New Zealanders think it's a big joke when they get caught for drink-driving, and drug-driving is just as bad. It killed our daughter."

ROADSIDE TEST

How does it work?

A police officer collects your saliva by placing a small plastic device, with a spoon on the end, on your tongue. If there is an illegal drug in your system, a line on the device changes colour, indicating which drug.

How long does it take?

In Australia the initial test takes 3-5 minutes. If a positive result is returned, you can be taken away for another test. The whole process takes 15 minutes.

How much does it cost?

$30 per test to administer, compared with about 5 cents for every breath-alcohol test.

- Fairfax Media

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