14 Jun 2018

Drugged driving fatalities outnumber drink driving deaths

7:06 pm on 14 June 2018

More fatal road crashes last year involved drugged drivers than drunk drivers, figures obtained by the Automobile Association (AA) reveal.

Road crashes imposed intangible, financial and economic costs to society, said the report.

Road crashes imposed intangible, financial and economic costs to society, said the report. Photo: 123RF

Last year, 79 fatal crashes involved a driver with drugs in their system, compared with 70 involving an intoxicated driver.

In 2016, 59 fatal crashes involved a drugged driver and 67 involved alcohol. The figures come from testing that is done by authorities following a fatal crash.

"The AA has called drugged driving a silent killer on our roads for years and these latest figures confirm how prevalent drugs are in fatal crashes," Dylan Thomsen, AA road safety spokesperson, said.

"No one wants someone who is high driving towards their family at 100km/h but right now the chances of being caught drugged driving is tiny. We have to change that."

The association is repeating its call for the introduction of random roadside drugs testing.

Excluding alcohol, the two most commonly detected individual drugs were cannabis and P.

The cases of P being detected had shot up in recent years, and a range of other drugs and medications that impair driving also feature in the results, the AA said.

Dylan Thomsen said saliva-based testing kits should be used. They detect common illicit drugs including cannabis, methamphetamine, and ecstasy.

At present police have to have strong cause to suspect drug use and then take the driver to a police station for a 'walk-and-turn' test.

"The current system almost needs a driver to be sitting in the car with drugs on the seat next to them to get tested," Mr Thomsen said.

"The saliva testing devices being used in many other countries would be much faster and allow many more potentially drug impaired drivers to be tested than the current approach."

The AA believes the increase in drugged-driving figures this year is probably due to more thorough testing being done following crashes.

Drug tests ineffective - Drug Foundation

The Drug Foundation questions the validity of the tests and does not believe the technology is currently at a standard for it to be introduced in New Zealand.

"It doesn't test for the full range of drugs, including prescription medications that it needs to. It doesn't test for impairment and in the case of cannabis, overseas studies have shown that it misses about half of the cases," executive director Ross Bell said.

He said it should not be relied on as solid evidence for police enforcement.

Students Against Dangerous Driving (SADD) national manager Donna Govorko said the organisation was working to educate young people about their role in stopping dangerous driving.

"We encourage all young people to ... have their say and speak up.

"Because they're also influential on the driver."

Ms Govorko said the current drug testing system was quite limited and she would like to see a more scientific and robust approach taken.