On behalf of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the kind invitation to present to and assist the committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the road traffic Bill for 2015.
Driving under the influence of drugs remains a significant problem in Ireland. The Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020 includes actions to address this forensically, legally and medically. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is the national, independent and statutory forensic body with responsibility for testing for intoxicants in Ireland and with a designated role in implementing these actions. The bureau's Report on Roadside Drug Testing and Equipment and Related Matters, published in 2012 and available in advance to members, is a study on all aspects of roadside drug testing, including reference to and analysis of any equipment currently in use or anticipated to be used to carry out such tests. I would be happy to refer to any issues within that to assist the committee.
The report considers the current definition of a "drug" - we may have to return to that issue - and current drug analysis procedure under the Road Traffic Acts. As part of the evidence base for driving under the influence of drugs, the prevalence of drug taking in the general population, in the driver population, in suspected drugs-driving population and the toxicology data for drivers in fatal crashes are presented and reviewed, including the bureau study, Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Ireland: Results of a Nationwide Survey 2000-2001. That was also sent to the committee in advance of today's meeting.
A number of international data and reports are also considered to inform the relevant bodies as to drugs that could and should be targeted for testing into the future. The studies indicate that cannabis and benzodiazepines are currently the most prevalent drugs in driving under the influence of drugs cases, followed by the opiates, methadone and cocaine.
The effects of individual drugs on driving and the relationship between impairment and measurement of those drugs in the human body are examined in the report. The methods of detection of drugs-driving by means of roadside impairment testing - implemented by gardaí since last November - and with particular emphasis on roadside chemical drug testing in oral fluid are reviewed to include medical, practical and scientific considerations. The consequential confirmatory laboratory testing for drug detection in body fluids, including oral fluid in the future, is explored. I thank my colleagues, including Ms Pauline Leavey, the recently retired chief analyst, Dr. Richard Maguire and Ms Helen Kearns, our current chief analyst, for their assistance and expertise in this report.
We considered some previous international studies, and I will mention one in order to assist the committee.
It is very important to have evidence to say why we are doing this. I am aware that there are important issues about road safety but also about civil liberties. It is a question of striking the right balance. We studied in particular the DRUID report 2011, which is one of many international reports. The current status of roadside drug testing in the international literature by way of extended studies is presented and how they support the introduction of roadside chemical drug testing, RCDT, devices but these reports and our report also acknowledge certain limitations. The introduction of roadside drug testing devices is a far more complex and complicated initiative than was the case for roadside breath alcohol testing.
A number of currently available roadside drug testing devices were considered and reviewed by us to inform the report on how they operate, their storage and operation conditions, the scientific criteria on which they are based and also the countries which are currently using the devices or proposed to use them at some stage in the future, after 2012.
We also studied the practices for driving under the influence of drugs, DUID, roadside testing in 13 other countries by way of survey to colleagues because it is important that in Ireland we are aware of what other countries do and we learn from them and they learn from us. We noted that eight of these countries or jurisdictions already have in place provision for the use of such devices. The remaining five countries had decided not to use the devices and to rely only on impairment testing.
The report also sets out the considerations and options for the introduction of RCDT devices in Ireland, under four main headings, legal, operational, scientific and medical. A number of options were outlined with the considered recommendation being the combination of roadside traffic impairment testing and roadside chemical drug testing. An implementation plan for the introduction of the recommended option was set out, including the working timeframe for implementation of the roadside chemical drug testing following the introduction and implementation of the 2014 legislation for roadside intoxicant impairment testing. That has been in since last November and is another context.
Scientific evaluation of RCDT devices requires specification, selection and evaluation of a suitable testing RCDT system. The 2015 Bill provides the statutory basis for the Medical Bureau of Road Safety’s, MBRS, function for approval, supply and testing of such systems for the taking of oral fluid and blood samples for roadside and confirmatory testing of drugs which impair driving. Based on current national and international prevalence data the drugs to be targeted initially in RCDT are cannabis, cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines.
The general scheme of the Bill before the Oireachtas also empowers the Garda to carry out RCDT and to establish checkpoints for RCDT with similar powers to existing mandatory roadside alcohol testing. It is suggested and recommended that there be a combined twin track approach of zero tolerance for drugs not licensed for human medicinal use and the confirmed presence with impairment for prescribable or over the counter drugs. Other jurisdictions have approached this issue with variations on this theme. Recent legislative changes, just over a month ago, in England and Wales informed us of one approach. The statutory definition in the 2015 Bill of the types and classifications of impairing drugs will require further consultation and consideration. We must link that with the health aspects of the issue.
It is very important that as well as considering road safety we reassure people about their civil liberties and health in driving and do not cause undue alarm to people on prescription medicines. A parallel health educational initiative is needed to support and encourage drivers with medical conditions to take their prescribed medications in accordance with health care advices and medical fitness to drive guidelines.
On the technical side, there was a competitive EU tendering process initiated in 2014 under which we set out suitable specifications including 98 separate specifications for an RCDT system. These, and the overarching legislative, financial and operational parameters, will be summarised and addressed in whatever detail the committee would like. We wish to help it in every way possible to understand those technical aspects. A number of RCDT systems are undergoing full scientific evaluation by the MBRS. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, LC-MS, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, GC-MS, are sophisticated laboratory techniques. We utilised these in the evaluation of using genuine oral fluid spiked with target analytes to confirm the spiked level before challenging the sensitivity and selectivity for the drugs under test for the different systems. Sensitivity and selectivity are very important scientific concepts to consider. Are we picking up the drugs that are there and are we sure we are not picking up something that is not there? That is a question of accuracy and fairness. It is very important that the public and drivers have confidence in an independent forensically assessed system. The results of the scientific evaluation and of a recent Garda Síochána field trial of devices at the MBRS will be reviewed with the epidemiological and demographic background and legislative requirements.
When the gardaí came to us last month just before and just after sunset in good Irish fashion, and to our delight, it poured rain. The conditions were awful, which was terrific for assessing how it works. The gardaí, the devices and our volunteers were completely rain-soaked and we said it was a wonderful condition under which to test the devices.
The introduction of RCDT needs a carefully integrated and co-ordinated approach harmonising scientific, medical, legislative, and law enforcement requirements to enable enhanced awareness, detection and deterrence of DUID. The general scheme of the road traffic Bill 2015 currently being scrutinised by this committee is an essential part of that procedure and reflects the need to consider the requirements of the administration of justice within the integrated framework. The MBRS is very pleased to assist the committee in that consultative and deliberative process and to answer questions on any issues arising.
I have six core points, the fourth, fifth and sixth summarise what I have said. The first three are: recognition that driving under the influence of drugs is a significant problem; promotion of road safety to reduce deaths and injuries due to road traffic collisions and to ensure that the people taking drugs do not themselves become the victims of a fatality or serious injury, or put others in that position; and promoting and supporting the health and well-being of the driving population linked with medical fitness to drive. The fourth, fifth and sixth points are: provide an evidential basis for RCDT system; set scientific requirements ensuring accuracy and fairness of the RCDT system; and ensure a harmonised and integrated approach.
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee.