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Drug driving now causing more road fatalities than alcohol

May 13, 2019
By Alana House

New research has revealed drug driving has become a bigger danger than alcohol on Australian roads.

According to research from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine the presence of methylamphetamine (ice) in drivers involved in fatal accidents in Victoria alone has almost quadrupled in the past eight years.

Head of Forensic Science & Chief Toxicologist at the VIFM Dr Dimitri Gerostamoulos told that the presence of stimulants in drivers involved in fatal accidents had risen from 5.9% in 2010 to 19% in 2018.

Meanwhile, the incidents of drink driving fatalities has dramatically fallen: 21.3% of drivers killed in Victoria in 2014 were over the legal alcohol limit, but only 14.3% in 2018.

Dr Gerostamoulos said drivers are “at least twice as likely to crash under the influence of marijuana,” with that figure rising to “ten times” for drivers high on stimulants.

“They don’t just affect you at the time, but for days after,’ Dr Gerostamoulos said.

World first roadside drug testing

Research at Swinburne’s Drugs and Driving Research Unit helped to enable the introduction of roadside drug testing for the first time in the world.

The Victorian Government’s Road Safety (Drug Driving) Act 2003 was the first legislation of its type to be introduced anywhere in the world.

It enabled police to perform roadside saliva testing on drivers for the detection of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; an active component in cannabis), methamphetamine – including its most potent crystalline form (ice) – and MDMA (ecstasy).

Following Victoria’s lead, all jurisdictions in Australia enacted similar legislation (Tasmania and South Australia in 2005; NSW in 2006; Western Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory in 2007; Australian Capital Territory in 2010).

Roadside saliva testing was introduced in Victoria in 2004 and the number of drug tests by Victoria Police increased steadily from 735 in 2004 to around 100,000 in 2016. The number of drivers charged with drug-driving offences in Victoria also increased, from 633 in 2010/11 to 5554 in 2015/16 – an increase of almost 900%.

Zero tolerance for drug driving in NSW

Every person caught drink or drug driving will lose their licence on the spot under tough new laws to be introduced in NSW on May 20.

NSW Roads Minister Andrew Constance (pictured above) said: “This means anyone caught drink-driving in NSW, at any level, including low-range, can now lose their licence immediately.

“This reform makes it clear if you break the law, you will pay the price. We are taking a zero-tolerance approach to drink and drug driving.”

First-time, low-range drink drivers will be stripped of their licences for three months and receive a $561 fine.

Beyond low-level offences (0.05-0.07 BAC), mid-range offenders (0.08-0.149 BAC) will be forced to fit an alcohol interlock in their cars. High-risk, repeat offenders face vehicle impound or licence plate confiscation.

Offenders who drive with the presence of illicit drugs for the first time will also receive a $561 fine and a three month licence suspension if the offence is confirmed by laboratory analysis.

“Drivers who have an illegal level of alcohol in their blood or have used illegal drugs have no place on the road,” Constance said.

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