Roadside drug testing given green light despite evidence of being unreliable

Maiki Sherman
Source: 1News

Roadside drug testing is being given the green light by the Government despite some of our biggest medical organisations saying the evidence behind them is unreliable.

The legislation is set to pass into law come December despite a majority of submissions on the legislation raising concern about a disproportional impact on Māori.

What’s more, the criticism by health professionals declaring the testing framework for oral fluid and blood tests is “not supported by reliable scientific evidence”, according to the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists adding “the presence of drugs…does not directly relate to impairment”. It says further research is needed.    

The NZ Medical Association agrees the science is “not quite sufficiently adequate”.

Dr Bryan Betty of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP) says it’s unusual so many health groups have raised the issue.

“This needs serious consideration by our politicians and policy makers before it is turned into law.

Medical professionals believe there is an absence of well-defined threshold levels and impairment levels for many drugs.

“If it's detected in roadside testing it doesn't necessarily mean that the driver is impaired. So, there is no correlation often between impairment and the level of drug that's found,” Betty said. 

The Bill was originally introduced by the Green Party’s former Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

“The reality is we don't have evidence one way or the other about what the impact of this bill is going to be,” Genter said.

Asked if the legislation was a test-run, she replied “well you never know how any policy is going to work until you implement it”.

In a select committee report into the legislation. both the Green Party and ACT said “it's likely that a number of unimpaired people will be subjected to infringement or criminal penalties”.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said he had confidence in the Bill despite the criticisms.

“Drug driving causes immense damage on our roads we had 103 people in 2019 who lost their lives on our roads who had drugs in their system.

“I believe that it is a robust piece of legislation, acknowledging that some of the understanding in this area is still developing,” Wood said.

The Māori Party is the only party to have voted against the Bill.

“It's an absolute hit and miss and we can't support anything that it going to re-victimise," Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said.

“This is a bill that will prejudicially affect our rangatahi (young people).” 

Roadside drug testing would allow police to randomly stop drivers.

Anyone failing two saliva tests will be fined, while those opting for a blood test risk being slapped with a conviction.

A medical defence can be argued for prescription drugs but given access difficulties with cannabis it is believed many people relying on the drug for medicinal purposes will be caught out.

What's more the THC level cannabis can be detected at least six days after use, according to Kali Mercier of the NZ Drug Foundation.   

“If you think about how many people used cannabis for example, 590,000 last year, that could have a potential impact on all of those people,” Mercier said.

The new law expected to be passed in parliament in December.