Random driver drug testing to become permanent in Victoria

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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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After the world's first-ever 12 month trial of random drug testing for automobile drivers, the Victorian government yesterday introduced legislation into parliament for the testing to become permanent starting July 1, 2006. The government tests targeted for the presence of cannabis and amphetamines by use of a saliva swab. During the trial period, the presence of ecstacy was not tested, because at the time the trial period began, there was uncertainty over the accuracy of saliva tests for the drug.

The legislation comes in response to the discovery that one in 46 drivers tested were found positive for cannabis and/or amphetamines. Victorian Assistant Commissioner of Traffic, Noel Ashby said, "It is one in 46 drivers that we're testing are prepared to take a risk and endanger the lives of other people and that's really what we're about, we're trying to prevent people endangering the lives of others".

Of 13,176 tests carried out during the trial, 199 drivers tested positive for amphetamines only, 19 for cannabis alone and 69 for both amphetamines and cannabis. Each driver who tested positive was fined at least AU$307 and lost three demerit points.

Police also conducted tests for ecstacy, despite being unable to prosecute those driving under the influence of ecstacy alone. During the trial, 25 drivers tested positive to ecstacy alone and more than 200 tested positive for both ecstasy and amphetamines.

Victorian Police Minister, Tim Holding said existing penalties – which are softer than for drink-driving offences – were inadequate and would be toughened to ensure they reflected the seriousness of the offence.

At present, a first drug-driving offence incurs a $307 fine and three demerit points; subsequent offences a $1227 fine and up to a six-month loss of licence.

In comparison, a drink-driving offence attracts a fine of up to $1200 plus disqualification from driving for at least six months and up to 10 demerit points. Repeat drink-drivers face the possibilty of being penalised with a fine of up to $2500 or up to three months' imprisonment, plus a minimum one-year loss of licence and use of an alcohol interlock device for at least six months.

Under the random roadside drug-testing system, drivers who test positive are forced off the road for 24 hours. A second swab is then taken and sent for testing to identify the drug before penalties are issued.

Ken Ogden from the RACV said he would like to see every booze bus in Victoria be able to also operate as a drugs bus.

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