Binge blocked

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersOctober 15, 2021

In the late 1990s, I was an innocent young thing, oblivious to most of the harsher realities of life and generally shielded from the reckless, hedonistic actions of my older siblings as they moved through their late teens and early 20s. By and large, they were a spirited group, always up for a good party and happy to indulge.

One bingeful night, my late brother, then 18 or 19, decided to test the limits of his car down a residential thoroughfare, landing up in a public park and becoming well acquainted with an unyielding tree. Thankfully, no one else was involved, and he walked away relatively unscathed (Dad’s wrath was probably worse than the accident). But it was among the first of many serious, drug-fuelled incidents that would surround him well into his late 20s.

While this period in my own life wasn’t entirely marked with gold stars, I can say I’m thankful for the lessons of my older siblings. The implications of alcohol and drug use and abuse have always been very real to me.

Reports this week suggest that the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill could become law by December. And, I say, the country will be better for it.

Since December 2019, there have been moves to empower the New Zealand police to conduct random roadside oral-fluid drug testing in the fight against fatal and serious crashes. On 30 July 2020, the bill was introduced before Parliament, with specific criminal limits for drugs to be added by supplementary order paper and provided to the select committee for scrutiny, allowing the independent expert panel sufficient time to advise on the setting of these limits.

The proposed criminal limits and blood infringement thresholds for 25 impairing drugs were announced on 1 April this year. Following public consultation, the bill had its second reading on 11 August and is currently heading towards its third and final reading before being signed by the governor-general and becoming an act.

Of course, there are concerns. How accurate will the tests be? What’s the distinction between detection and impairment? Will sober drivers be incorrectly identified as impaired due to other factors? What other testing should be done once impairment is detected at the roadside?

Then, when it comes to professional drivers, where does occupational health and safety come into it? In the US, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires truck drivers to submit to random drug and alcohol testing. Could this be a future step in compliance for the industry in New Zealand? According to the Ministry of Transport, only 5% of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes between 2017 and 2019 were affected by substances. But that’s still 5% too many.

The numbers also show that those most likely to drive while intoxicated and be involved in fatal collisions are in the 15- to 34-year-old age group. I hope that the threat of roadside testing will be as much of a deterrent as the testing itself, especially among this group. They may not all be as lucky as my brother was.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers