Government misrepresenting facts on roadside drug testing

The government’s proposed roadside drug tests are based on unreliable science, says the car review website editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, whose road safety research was awarded by the Australian Police Journal, says the government is either mistaken or deliberately misrepresenting the facts on drugged driving.

“Drugs like alcohol can be reliably detected during roadside testing. Most other drugs, however, can’t be reliability tested. Cannabis is the most obvious example.”

“Roadside tests can show the presence of cannabis, but these tests cannot reliability say a person was affected significantly, even if the recorded drug concentration is very high. That’s quite different to tests for alcohol, which can reliably say a person was drunk and that their driving would have been affected.”

“In fact, the driver who gets busted in a police roadside test may not have willingly consumed cannabis at all. He or she may merely have been sitting in a room where cannabis was smoked. That would be like the police busting a person for drink driving after that person spent the night sitting in a pub drinking lemonade.”

“I appreciate that the police and government are concerned at the number of accidents involving drugs. However, it’s irresponsible for them to misrepresent facts in order to justify their campaigns. This legislation may result in innocent people being convicted but probably won’t make much difference to road safety.”

Instead of testing for the presence of drugs, Matthew-Wilson believes the police should instead test for ability to drive safely.

“You can’t reliably test for many drugs, but you can reliably test for awareness. For example, a blotto driver can’t reliably touch his nose with his finger or walk in a straight line. Although it’s early days, there are now apps that can indicate whether or not a person is safe to drive a vehicle, based on their ability to perform simple tasks. That’s the sort of roadside test that would make a difference, because it’s targeting dangerous behaviour rather than lifestyle."

Matthew-Wilson also points out that alcohol is still the worst drug on our roads.

“We live in a strange time in history where P dealers get jailed for life, legal highs are banned, but liquor stores are overflowing with alcoholic drinks, many of them aimed squarely at young adults. If the government was serious about saving lives, it would urgently restrict the sale and promotion of alcohol, especially to vulnerable groups like teenagers. Although cannabis is frequently implicated in fatal road accidents, it’s generally most dangerous when combined with the world’s worst legal drug.”