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Law changes needed before testing for drug impaired drivers

Date 8/01/2019

Media Release

Law changes needed before testing for drug impaired drivers goes ahead

The environmental science and research agency (ESR), which runs drug tests on blood samples for a range of government organisations, says there would need to be a law change and a consensus of how screening would be done, before the introduction of a roadside test for drug impaired drivers.

ESR forensic toxicology and pharmaceutical manager Mary Jane McCarthy was responding to a petition recently launched in Nelson calling for the urgent introduction of drug testing of drivers, following the number of road fatalities connected to drug use.

Dr McCarthy says current legislation requires a driver to fail a compulsory impairment test before a drug test can be required.

She says a number of different biological samples can be tested for the evidence of drug use, however the presence of drugs does not necessarily mean that the person is impaired by the drug.

“Blood is the best sample for analysis, however taking a blood sample or urine sample would be impractical and possibly considered by some to be too invasive.”

She adds that while alcohol, cannabis and methamphetamine are known to be commonly used, and of concern in relation to road safety, there are many other drugs that could affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

Dr McCarthy says ESR is currently working with a New Zealand biotech company on developing technology, which could quickly and efficiently test drug-impaired drivers using saliva.

She says the technology can be used to rapidly detect specifically targeted drugs but that would still require a law change before it could to be administered to drivers.

The technology, developed by AuramerBio, uses synthetic DNA that is programmed to recognise specifically targeted drugs.

ESR currently carries out drug and alcohol tests on blood samples submitted by NZ Police, the Ministry of Justice and NZTA.

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