28 Jun 2019

Crash victims' family frustrated over lack of action on roadside drug testing

6:15 pm on 28 June 2019

A family who lost three people in a horrific car crash near Waverley almost exactly a year ago say its time for the government to stop dragging its feet on roadside drug testing.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Their call comes after coroner Tim Scott released his report into the crash today, and added his voice to what he described as a "groundswell" of support for such testing.

Shelley Porteous says her family is one of about 70 who have lost a loved one to a drug-impaired driver in New Zealand last year.

Her husband, Len, lost his parents Ian and Rosalie Porteous and an aunt, Ora Keene, when a car driven by Jeremy Thompson crossed the centre line and crashed into the vehicle they were travelling in, a couple of kilometres north of Waverley.

Four other people died including two children, one of whom was Mr Thompson's baby girl - Shady.

The sole survivor of the crash, Ani Nohinohi, told a coronial hearing that Mr Thompson - her partner - had smoked at least three cones of synthetic cannabis before the crash, and he was described as being "way gone" by a staff member at a Hawera McDonald's restaurant drive-through.

He was later found to have traces of THC and two chemicals linked to synthetic drugs in his blood.

Ms Porteous said she believed that if roadside drug testing had been in place her family members might still be alive.

"The driver of the other vehicle had 100 demerit points so he'd obviously been pulled up by police before. We just feel that if there was wider testing in place then possibly he might not have been on the roads that day.

"It's just needless deaths that don't need to happen on our roads."

Ms Porteous said it was significant that Mr Scott had come out in favour of roadside drug testing.

"We were really pleased to see the coroner supports that. We think it's really, really important that this gets put in place.

"I guess we're just really frustrated with the government and we just want something done about it, and we don't want to see them delaying it and delaying it so more families have to go through what we're going through."

Ian and Rosalie Porteous, who died in a fatal crash in Taranaki that also claimed five other lives, at a recent family gathering.

Ian and Rosalie Porteous at a family gathering. Photo: Supplied

The government has called for public submissions on a discussion document on roadside drug testing.

The document discusses whether it will be possible to measure impairment or only the presence of a drug and whether synthetic drugs can be detected at all.

Moves to decriminalise cannabis also sit awkwardly in the background.

Ms Porteous said New Zealand should take its lead from overseas.

"I just think we are not the country pioneering this. So there's the UK, Australia has been doing it for 15 years, Canada does it.

"It can't be rocket science: get some experts in, get something put in place, put some timeframes in place for us so we know they do take this seriously and that something is being done."

Ms Porteous said Canadian police were given additional training so that when a swab returned a negative result they still had the confidence to take a driver off the road for further testing.

Logan Porteous is Ian and Rosalie's youngest son.

Speaking from Melbourne, he said there were ways around the problem of roadside testing for synthetics, but often it went back to the lab for further tests.

"You know, maybe one in every 10 tests send it off to a lab and in the lab they can test for everything. So the people out there who are drug-driving and using synthetic cannabis - that will get picked up in a lab.

"On the side of the road with a swab it is limited, but in a lab more things can be tested and they'll be wondering 'am I going to be the one in 10?'"

Karen Dow - the mother of a man who was killed by a drug-impaired driver on New Year's Eve 2017 - presented a petition calling for roadside drug testing to Parliament in May, timed to coincide with what would have been her son's 25th birthday.

She said the government's discussion document was an unnecessary delay.

"It's really another stalling tactic. It's so airy-fairy, the whole document. It asks: which is the best way to approach this? Are people's rights being impinged? Is it time consuming? Is it costly? Is it this? Is it that?"

No caption

Karen Dow presented a petition calling for roadside drug testing to Parliament in May. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Ms Dow said the government should just get on with the job.

"Was there a discussion document put out to the public to implement seatbelts? No. Was there a discussion document put out to the public to implement child constraints? No, because it saves people's lives and the government decided that was the right thing to do.

"I see this as no different. It's not different from altering the speed limit or blood alcohol testing levels. It saves people's lives."

Ms Porteous said her family would not be able to put the deaths of Ian, Rosalie and Ora behind them until roadside drug testing was introduced.

"You know, this has been really tough on the family and it is really tough having to fight this. It's very emotional and we just want to move on, and we can't move on until the government says they are going to do something about it."

Ms Porteous said people should call *555 if people were driving dangerously.

"It's so important that they do that. Once they've done that they can carry on with their day and know that they have addressed it."

Submissions on the government's discussion document on roadside drug testing ended at 5pm today.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs