Enhanced Drug Impaired Driver Testing

Enhanced Drug Impaired Driver Testing - Hospitality New Zealand


Ministers Stuart Nash and Julie Anne Genter announced that they would be seeking public feedback on the issue of drug impaired driver testing. The discussion paper, Enhanced Drug Impaired Driver Testing, has now been released.

It is important for all of our members to have their say on this issue - we encourage you to read the discussion paper, and take the opportunity to have your say on drug driver testing.

Hospitality NZ supports the introduction of measures to introduce more reliable, and more frequent testing of drivers that are under the influence of drugs while driving.

We are concerned that current Police policy is to not undertake an impairment test for drugs, if a driver is processed for drink driving. We are also concerned that the only form of road side screening for drugs currently does not appear to be used very often.

However, the issue of drug driver testing is complex, and there are many aspects to be considered - including the issue of establishing impairment and the reliability of available testing methods. 

The government is looking for feedback on:

  • the methods that could be used to screen and test for drugs
  • the circumstances in which a driver should be tested
  • what drugs should be tested for
  • how an offence for drug driving should be dealt with by Police

More information can be found on the Ministry of Transport website.

Hospitality New Zealand is interested in your views on this – we would welcome your feedback to help shape our submission – please email our Advocacy and Policy Manager, Nadine Mehlhopt by Monday 10 June 2019, advocacy@hospitality.org.nz.

Make your own submission by Friday 28 June 2019
Give us your feedback by Monday 10 June 2019

From the discussion paper:

As it currently stands, there are two elements to drug-driving enforcement in New Zealand: roadside drug testing of drivers who are suspected of being impaired by drugs or other substances; and blood testing of drivers hospitalised following a crash.

The roadside element is focused on demonstrating that a driver is not fit to drive (impaired) through a physical impairment test called the Compulsory Impairment Test (CIT). It is conducted by specially trained Police officers and includes eye, walk and turn, and one-leg-stand assessments. Police officers will determine the most appropriate place to require a driver to undergo a CIT, taking into account matters such as the safety of the surrounding environment and the presence of observers. This assessment often results in the driver being required to accompany an enforcement officer to a Police station to undergo the CIT.

Unlike breath alcohol testing, drivers cannot be randomly tested for drugs. A Police officer must have ‘good cause to suspect’ that a driver has used a drug, or drugs, before the driver can be required to undergo a CIT. Good cause to suspect could be determined from a driver’s manner of driving, their demeanour when they are stopped and spoken to by Police, or from external cues such as the smell of cannabis.

Our current ‘good cause to suspect’ CIT process has challenges and limitations. A Police officer must explicitly identify a reason to suspect a driver is potentially impaired from using drugs from external cues, such as erratic or poor driving, or the driver’s behaviour once stopped.

The number of CITs undertaken each year is low. Police do not record the number of CITs conducted, however, Police records show that 473 blood specimens were submitted for analysis in 2017/18.

Police procedure is not to conduct a CIT if a driver is being processed for a drink driving offence. This means that drivers who may be impaired from both alcohol and drugs will not be subject to a CIT if an offence of drink driving is established. This contributes to the low number of CIT Tests conducted.

In comparison to the number of drug tests undertaken, around 2 million compulsory alcohol breath tests are carried out each year.

Screening drivers for drugs at the roadside could make it possible to test a significantly greater number of drivers, identify more drug-impaired drivers and improve the visibility of drug driving enforcement, creating a greater deterrent effect. However, unlike screening for alcohol, screening for drugs cannot currently be undertaken by breath testing. Evidence of drug use can be determined from urine, blood or oral fluid.

Detaining drivers to conduct drug testing without a reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired from using drugs, for example through random testing, is likely to be inconsistent with section 22 of the Bill of Rights Act. This is because the lack of any specific, reasonable grounds for detaining someone creates an appreciable risk the detention will be arbitrary, particularly given the potential length of the detention and possibility of arrest for non-compliance.

For practical reasons, oral fluid testing is the standard internationally for screening for drug driving and would likely be the method of testing used initially in New Zealand. This is because screening for drugs at the roadside needs to be completed swiftly, both to minimise driver detention and to enable sufficient testing to achieve a deterrent effect.

Oral fluid testing is the least invasive method available to screen drivers at the roadside and is used in other countries, such as the United Kingdom among a number of European states and Australia. A number of states in Australia operate oral fluid testing programmes. For example, Victoria has operated a roadside oral fluid testing programme for over 15 years. The number of tests conducted in Australia is approaching 500,000 per annum.

Unlike alcohol breath tests, oral fluid screening devices can only detect the presence of drugs. They cannot test for impairment. Accordingly, most countries operate a zero-tolerance policy in presence-based schemes, especially for illegal drugs. This means that some drivers who have used drugs, but may not be impaired, will fail drug screening tests and face penalties. In the jurisdictions that operate these schemes, this is considered a justifiable response to addressing the harm of drug driving and deterring drug driving behaviour.

Basic oral fluid drug screening devices can detect the main illicit and recreational drugs of concern in New Zealand, such as THC (the active ingredient in cannabis), methamphetamine (P) and MDMA (ecstasy). They can also detect some of the drugs in the opioid class (e.g. heroin and codeine) and the benzodiazepine class (e.g. anti-anxiety medication), and amphetamines (stimulants).

However, currently, drug screening devices cannot detect synthetic cannabinoids and other ‘designer drugs’, the use of which is a growing concern in New Zealand. They also detect only a small number of prescription drugs.

Testing process