2 Apr 2024

Roadside drug testing still a priority for government - Simeon Brown

9:02 pm on 2 April 2024
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File pic Photo: Supplied / Drug Detection Agency

Roadside drug testing remains a top priority for the government - despite it being more than two years since legislation was passed to enable it, the Transport Minister says.

Nelson's mayor Mayor Nick Smith has been campaigning for testing, along with the family of Matthew Dow, who was killed on the Appleby Highway on New Year's Eve six years ago, by a driver high on methamphetamine and cannabis.

Nick Smith at Ratana.

Nick Smith Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Smith said he was frustrated at the length of time it has taken to introduce it.

"The Dow family are just one of dozens in New Zealand who have had the tragic loss of a loved one to a driver off their face on drugs."

In 2019, Karen Dow handed a petition of more than 6000 signatures to then National MP Smith on the steps of Parliament asking the government to urgently pass legislation to introduce random roadside drug testing to reduce the escalating road toll from drugged drivers.

In 2021, 93 people were killed in crashes where a driver was found to be drug-impaired - nearly a third of all fatalities that year.

In response to a request from Smith for an update on the progress of implementing roadside drug testing, Transport Minister Simeon Brown said it remained a top priority - but police had been unable to find a suitable device to carry out roadside tests that met the current criteria.

He claimed the previous government had "utterly failed" to establish a roadside drug testing framework and said its legislation was flawed and unworkable.

"Every day that goes by without roadside drug testing is another day that puts New Zealanders' lives at risk."

Brown said the government had plans to introduce new legislation this year, aligned closely with Australia, where roadside drug testing had been successfully implemented.

He said once it was in place targets would be set for police to undertake 50,000 roadside oral fluid tests per year.

There have been growing calls for random roadside drug testing after seven people were killed in crashes over the Easter long weekend.

Labour's police spokesperson Ginny Andersen said changes were proposed to the roadside drug testing regime last August that would see the existing technology available to do a roadside saliva test backed up with a laboratory test.

"That is best practice, to use saliva testing that's verified in the laboratory so if someone has been held accountable for driving while impaired, there is medical evidence to demonstrate that was the case."

Andersen said that could have been enforced from August this year, and the government was still able to implement it if they wanted to go ahead with that work.

She said it was possible that the cost of rolling out roadside drug testing and the associated lab tests was a reason that it was yet to be implemented.

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