Gardaí conducted 612 roadside ’drug-driving’ tests last year

New regime introduced in April allows drivers to be tested for illegal drugs

Since April 2017 gardaí have been carrying out roadside drug tests on motorists. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Since April 2017 gardaí have been carrying out roadside drug tests on motorists. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Gardaí tested 612 motorists at the roadside for drug driving last year, it has emerged.

Gardaí ran 52,395 Mandatory Intoxicant Testing (MIT) checkpoints over 2017 after new legislation introduced last April which gave gardaí powers to test motorists for drugs at the roadside.

Some 90 motorists tested positive for drugs following saliva tests at roadside checkpoints from April to the end of December 2017.

The Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) said gardaí were supplied with 19,000 drug-driving mouthpiece testing sticks last year, of which 612 were used.

The Drager 5000 drug tests work by collecting a sample of a motorists’ saliva in a mouthpiece device, which is then put into a reader which analyses the sample for the presence of intoxicants such as cocaine, cannabis, benzodiazepine and opiates.

Tender documents provided to companies bidding to supply testing devices said “the anticipated volume of testers per annum is 50,000”.

Delays in training gardaí, issues with the testing devices themselves, and uncertainty around the legislation have lead to significantly lower number of the new tests being carried out than expected.

Issues with the testing devices include waiting times for a result of ten to 15 minutes. There have also being issues with a motorist struggling to provide a sample if their mouth is dry.

Under the legislation if a motorist tests positive gardaí also have to perform an impairment test, which includes several co-ordination tasks and can take a further ten minutes.

Medical equipment firm Drager UK won the contract to supply the devices, worth an initial €1.8 million. An information pack for the testing devices state several substances may interfere with the test results, including caffeine, nicotine, paracetamol and ibuprofen. The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The instruction guide states: “As it is impossible to detect the possible influence of any food on the test absolutely, comply with a waiting time of ten minutes before sampling.”

Positive

The provisional Garda figures were provided to Tommy Broughan TD in response to a parliamentary question this week.

Garda sources have said in many cases officers will test for alcohol using the breathalyser test, which takes up to two minutes, rather than conduct the saliva test for drugs.

The requirement to also conduct an impairment test for motorists who test positive for drugs is said to be causing confusion about what is required in order to proceed with a prosecution.

The Department of Transport introduced the new legislation, and a spokesman said the department keep in regular contact with the garda Roads Policing Unit.

“No issues have been identified in relation to the legislation on preliminary testing of drivers for drugs, and there are therefore no plans to amend this legislation” he said.

Training

There have been delays training gardaí in how to use the new testing equipment. Latest figures from the gardaí indicate 2,501 officers have been trained to conduct the roadside tests, out of 13,551 members of the force.

John O’Keefe, a spokesman for the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said when the legislation was enacted in April, “only a handful of members throughout the country were trained to use the drug testing equipment.”

“All the GRA continue to ask for is that our members are given the proper training and equipment before new legislation is enacted - not afterwards” he said.

A spokesman for the gardaí said the first phase of training focused on officers working in the Roads Policing Unit, after which training was extended to other members of the force nationwide.