Drug tests for drivers on agenda

BY GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2009

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Transport Minister Steven Joyce has made the introduction of drug tests for drivers his "top priority".

A bill, which would give police the power to stop and make drivers have a roadside test for drug impairment, is before Parliament's select committee.

Drafted by the previous Labour Government, the bill failed to get through the select committee stage in 2007.

Mr Joyce has now put the bill forward again and believes it will be passed by the middle of the year.

"I have made it our top legislative priority this year," Mr Joyce said.

The problems associated with drugged drivers have been highlighted in Taranaki in the past 18 months through several fatal and serious accidents when the driver has been under the influence of a variety of drugs, including methadone.

Last week methadone addict Peter Drinnan was sentenced to six years' jail for the manslaughter of 83-year-old Norman Luscombe last year.

Mr Luscombe died several days after his car was struck by Drinnan, who had crossed the centre line between Normanby and Eltham in his panic to get to New Plymouth for his daily dose of methadone.

Blood tests taken from Drinnan found he was under the influence of cannabis, methadone and the prescription drug Lorazepam, which he had stolen from his brother, at the time of the crash.

Mr Joyce said drivers driving under the influence of drugs was a real and understated problem on New Zealand roads.

"It is a real concern. Tests done on drivers who have been involved in fatalities show a very significant portion had drugs in their systems.

"I think it is a big issue that needs to be tackled. Historically, it has been in the too hard basket."

Under the new legislation, anyone failing drug tests while driving would face penalties similar to drink driving, Mr Joyce said.

It would also see the introduction of a compulsory impairment test where the driver has passed an evidential breath alcohol test but still appeared to be impaired.

Candor (Campaign Against Drugs On Road) Trust spokeswoman Rachel Ford, of Christchurch, said while she welcomed the move to introduce the legislation, she felt it did not go far enough.

"Testing only where drug taking is suspected is now a dated approach, as we know drug driving remains the norm until offenders feel some certainty of encountering detection."

She is advocating a tougher approach that would see widespread checkpoints for drugged drivers put in place.

An ESR study between 2004 and 2008 found 52 per cent of drivers that died in accidents were under the influence or alcohol or drugs.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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