Roadside tests could be used to detect drug use
MOTORISTS MAY soon be asked to step out of their vehicles and perform a series of roadside feats such as balancing on one leg, touching their nose, or walking a straight line under new anti-drug driving measures expected today.
A new report from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, on the latest international developments in detection and measurement of drug driving, is expected to recommend that gardaí test for drugs as they currently do for alcohol.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar, who will launch the report this afternoon with Prof Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, has already said he is prepared to introduce such drug detection measures in his new Road Traffic Bill, due for publication within weeks.
Currently, cannabis and benzodiazepines are considered to be among the most prevalent drugs, but others detected in postmortems include cocaine, amphetamines and other prescription drugs.
Already more than 3,000 gardaí have been trained in standard impairment testing, which in future would be carried out in conjunction with testing for alcohol at roadsides.
The process would involve an initial alcohol test followed by observation of the driver’s pupils. Other measures in which gardaí have been trained include asking motorists to bring a finger to touch the tip of the nose, possibly while standing on one leg. Motorists may also be asked to walk a straight line and turn, in conjunction with counting out loud in moves designed to test co-ordination and cognitive ability.
Another aspect of the process is the use of saliva-testing machines for roadside use.
However there are a number of difficulties yet to be overcome, including the creation of a State laboratory which would calibrate and certify the chemical testing machines.
The relationship between the presence of drugs in the body and impairment of driving will have to be addressed.
For example cannabis may be detected in the body several weeks after a person has used it, but its effects may not amount to impairment this long after it was taken.
A national drug-related death index has shown the number of drivers who tested positive for an illicit drug is currently running at almost 20 per year.
Mr Varadkar was not available for comment on the report’s contents last night last. But earlier this month he told a Road Safety Authority academic lecture he believed drug driving was a significant issue. He said research showed drivers who smoked cannabis were twice as likely as others to be involved in an accident.
The new Road Traffic Bill which is currently being drafted would include a provision to test drivers – even unconscious drivers – if the Constitution allowed it, he said.
In addition to the taking of illicit drugs by drivers, today’s report is understood to address prescription and over-the-counter medicines, which could also impair driving.