Drug driving police procedures under the spotlight in NSW

Date: May 31, 2017

Drug driving is a growing problem in NSW, with the Centre for Road Safety claiming that a rising number of motor vehicle accidents that occur in the state involve road users who test positive for illicit substances.

Figures from the state government agency revealed that 197 people have died in NSW between 2010 and 2013 due to crashes where the driver or rider had at least one of three drugs in their system – cannabis, speed or ecstasy.

The organisation added that approximately 13 per cent of all accidents on the state's roads are drug-related incidents. Meanwhile, approximately 1,000 people were convicted of drug-driving offences between 2010 and 2013.

However, Greens politician David Shoebridge has argued that current policing procedures for tackling drug driving unfairly target young and poor people. Officers only test for cannabis, speed and ecstasy, but figures show dozens of crashes occur due to prescription medications.

The danger of benzodiazepines

Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Mr Shoebridge said benzodiazepines, a group of mild tranquillisers in recognised brand names such as Xanax and Valium, are among the most dangerous drugs for drivers and riders of motorcycles.

"The police and the Coalition government aren't testing drivers for the drugs like benzos and cocaine that tend to be taken by middle and upper-class Australia," said Mr Shoebridge.

"This is despite the fact we can see they are serious contributors to road accidents. Instead, the police focus is on drugs like cannabis and MDMA that are more commonly taken by young people and people on lower incomes."

Centre for Road Safety data showed that 154 crashes in 2016 were linked to benzodiazepines. This was more than cannabis, ecstasy, speed and cocaine.

Mr Shoebridge believes the testing has a political agenda and doesn't achieve the most important objective – preventing impaired drivers from being a danger to themselves and others.

Roadside testing 'not fit for purpose'

This isn't the first time that the Greens MP has campaigned for an overhaul of current drug-testing protocols. In 2015, he accused the Coalition government of trying to "fudge the figures" and investing limited resources into an "arbitrary, unreliable and invasive" roadside testing program.

"We know from international best practice, such as the Wolff report in the UK, what levels of drugs impair drivers and the law should reflect this," he said at the time.

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