Gardaí have unveiled a new roadside drug driving testing system to help combat drug driving which has been found to be involved in almost one third of all road fatalities on Irish roads in recent years.
Minister of State at the Dept of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton formally launched the new preliminary roadside drug driving testing device, the DrugWipe 6s as Road Safety Authority (RSA) figures revealed that 147 people have died in road collisions so far in Ireland this year, up 28 on the same period last year.
Speaking at the launch of a Garda and RSA joint road safety appeal for Christmas, Ms Naughton said that the new DrugWipe 6s device, which gardaí began using on Thursday morning, will be an important aid to gardaí in ensuring people drove safely as it is more portable, can test for a great range of drugs and provide results faster than the previous testing equipment used by gardaí.
“We know that the majority of drivers don’t drive under the influence of drugs but there are still some who persist in this dangerous behaviour and as we come into the festive season, remember that drugs and alcohol and driving do not mix under any circumstances,” said Ms Naughton.
Assistant Garda Commissioner, Paula Hillman said research by the RSA and An Garda Síochána revealed that over the last five years, there have been 86 fatalities and 765 serious injuries on Irish roads over the Christmas and New Year Periods.
Assistant Commissioner Hillman said 2,550 drivers had been arrested to date in 2022 on suspicion of drug driving which works out as an average 54 drivers per week while research from the RSA found that 29 per cent of drivers killed between 2013 and 2017 on Irish roads tested positive for drugs.
“One of our primary goals is to reduce the number of people driving while under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs and the introduction of this new piece of equipment, the DrugWipe 6s, will increase our capacity to test drivers for the presence of illegal drugs,” she said.
“This year has seen 147 fatalities on our roads - that’s 147 empty seats at the table on Christmas Day which is far too high, and we must all work together keep each other safe – last December, some 19 people died in road collisions and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.”
She pointed out that anyone convicted of drink driving or drug driving faces serious consequences including a mandatory driving ban which can range from a minimum of three months for drink driving and a year for drug driving up to a €5,000 fine and six months imprisonment.
Prof Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety said that combinations of drugs and drugs and alcohol can seriously impair a person’s ability to drive safely and the new DrugWipe 6s was extremely timely as there has been a continued increase in the numbers drug driving in Ireland.
“In 2016, the MBRS tested 1,113 samples for drugs other than alcohol and by 2021, that number had risen to 4,321 and while alcohol remains the most frequently detected intoxicant, cannabis was the second most detected and continues to increase while cocaine was the third most detected.
“The new drug testing system can test for cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines and opiates as well as amphetamines and methamphetamines on the roadside and using oral fluid collection, it is very rapid with the test time reduced to 2-8 minutes,” he said.
Sam Waide, CEO of Road Safety Authority said that the vast majority of road collision deaths were avoidable and while 147 people had died on Irish roads this year to date, some 1,174 people had been seriously injured up until the end of November 2022 so people need to act responsibly.
Prof Conor Deasy, consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital echoed Mr Waide’s comments, pointing out that in addition to those killed on Irish roads over the Christmas period, a great many other suffer catastrophic life changing injuries that can never be reversed.
“You’ve heard a lot about fatalities today, but road collisions also involve life changing injuries - spinal cord injuries that leave people paraplegic, brain injuries that change their personality forever, limb injuries that change what it is that they can do with their lives,” said Prof Deasy.
“We, and An Garda Síochána, the National Ambulance Service, the Fire Service, we meet people every day who would love to be able to rewind the clock of life by ten or 20 or 30 seconds and anything we can do to mitigate that awfulness, we are absolutely motivated to deliver.”