I thank the Chairman and the committee members for the opportunity to present some information on Victoria's programme of random roadside saliva testing for illicit drugs. I have discussed the supply of extra copies with the clerk and the committee will receive them in about a week.
In 2003, Victoria's road toll was the lowest since records started in 1951, yet 330 people were killed on our roads. As we all know, one life lost is one too many. Community measures to reduce the road toll were, and are still, an imperative in Victoria, as they are in Ireland. To further reduce the road toll, in 2004, a trial was legislated for to introduce random roadside saliva testing for THC, Delta 9 — THC is the active component in cannabis — and methamphetamine, commonly known in Australia as speed. As we all know, drug driving seriously increases the risk of being involved in a crash. In 2003, 31% of drivers killed in Victoria tested positive for illicit drugs.
A person under the influence of drugs is more likely to take risks. Drug driving causes significantly reduced attention and a lessened ability to concentrate on the driving task. THC and methamphetamine are two of the common illicit drugs involved in Victorian road fatalities. Research shows that both these illicit drugs increase a driver's risk of being involved in a crash. Drivers who have recently consumed THC or methamphetamine run the same risk of having a crash as a driver with a BAC level of above 0.05. We know that cannabis slows the body's functions, including reaction time and memory. It dramatically diminishes a person's ability to drive a vehicle safely. Research evidence is that three-dimensional spatial judgments are seriously impaired at 0.02 BAC and that impairment in driving ability works on a one-to-one ratio.
In relation to alcohol, Victoria's policymakers selected a high level of impairment, 0.05. With alcohol, the policymakers moved from a specific deterrence based on individual impairment to per se law based on the science of accident risk. This policy is also the foundation of the random roadside saliva testing legislation.
The saliva drug testing device detects recent use of cannabis within a four-hour period, which we know has a significant impact on a person's ability to drive safely. Methamphetamine is from the psycho-stimulant class of illicit drugs and accelerates the body's functions. The devices selected by Victoria for random roadside saliva testing do not detect prescribed and common over-the-counter drugs, such as flu and cold medications. Testing only detects THC and methamphetamine substances not legally prescribed in Australia. Drug driving tests are random. Victoria police are using a drug bus and marked and unmarked police vehicles.
In the pilot drug test, drug driving tests were random. However, they were targeted at the public, truck drivers and entertainment precincts. The process of testing requires selected drivers to undergo a preliminary test for alcohol. This takes about 20 to 30 seconds. Where there is no or low alcohol presence detected, drivers or riders are asked to provide a saliva sample, which is screened at the roadside, with the results determined within approximately five minutes. Drivers who do not test positive are not detained further. Drivers who return a positive saliva test are asked to accompany an officer to a drug bus and provide a second sample. When a second test is required, the total process takes 30 minutes. Where there is a positive test to the second sample, the driver is interviewed according to normal police procedure.
Once the process is complete, the driver is allowed to leave, although he or she is not allowed to drive the vehicle. The driver is provided with a portion of the second sample, which he or she may choose to have independently analysed. It is important that the prosecution and potential penalties can only occur if roadside screening tests are confirmed by state-of-the-art, mass-spectrum lab units, GC-MS or LC-MS. This takes place in an authorised laboratory and they are 100% evidentially accurate.
Where the presence of illicit drugs is confirmed by laboratory analysis, a penalty notice or summons to appear in court is issued. People who lose their licences as a result of a drug driving offence must undertake a drug education and assessment course before being eligible to get their licences back. The penalties for drug driving offences are fines up to $600 and up to three months' loss of licence for first-time offenders. For subsequent offences, there is a fine of up to $1,200 and up to six months' loss of licence.
The important points from the Victoria trial are as follows. There were 1,300 saliva drug tests conducted in the trial year, compared to 3.7 million alcohol RBT tests for that same year, on a population not dissimilar in size to that of the Republic of Ireland. In the alcohol RBT programme, one in every 250 drivers is testing positive compared with the roadside drug testing pilot programme, where one in 46 drivers tested positive.
As I explained, the first test is an alcohol one and drivers found positive for alcohol are not tested for drugs. Accordingly, the actual number of drug positives could be greater than one in 46 owing to drivers who use both alcohol and drugs.
After the first alcohol test, drivers who are not processed for illegal alcohol levels are then randomly tested with a Securetec Drugwipe device. Drivers who screen positive in the Securetec Drugwipe device then do a second drug screen in the drug bus using a Cozard Rapiscan device. All drivers who have tested positive to the Cozard Rapiscan device have their samples sent to a laboratory for the GC-MS analysis. That is 100% accurate and is evidence for prosecution. The Drugwipe device has excellent specificity. Of the 13,000 tests in the trial, only 0.01% of drivers were not confirmed by the GC-MS laboratory testing so they were false positives.
As I said, the pilot drug bus was set up in trial test sites to target the public, truck drivers and people driving to and from entertainment precincts. At each site a comparison of alcohol positives with drug positives was conducted and it was found that, among the public, 0.9% of drivers tested positive for alcohol and 1.0% tested positive for drugs. With truck drivers, 0.5% tested positive for alcohol and 1.8% tested positive for drugs. In the cases of those driving to and from nightclubs, 2.9% of drivers tested were found positive for alcohol and 5.5% were found positive for drugs. Overall, 2.5% of the Drugwipe tests indicated positive results.
Some 91% were methamphetamine, 4.7% were THC and 4.3% tested positive for both drugs. Some 16.7% of Drugwipe positive drivers could not provide enough saliva for the Cozard test and blood was taken. All blood samples taken were positive when tested later in the laboratory. Some 1.7% of the Drugwipe positive drivers refused to take a second Cozard test and were charged and received the maximum penalty. Some 94% of Drugwipe positive screens were positive in the laboratory for methamphetamine. THC positives ranged from 222 nanograms per millilitre to 6,484 nanograms per millilitre. In 5% of the Drugwipe positive methamphetamine results, Cozard recorded a negative and the laboratory recorded a negative and the driver was not detained further and drove off. This represents for the Drugwipe unit only 0.01% of drivers tested being false positives. When all tests recorded a positive, 76% were positive to methamphetamine, 19.1% were positive to both drugs and 4.9% were positive to cannabis.
The 2.5% detection rate for the pilot programme overall generated a huge media response. The media compared 2.5% positive random drug tests with 0.4% positive random breath tests. Headlines read: "Drug Epidemic Five Times Greater than Alcohol". As a result, drug driving became a community issue.
In May, random roadside drug testing became permanent in legislation and in September, MDMA, or ecstasy as it is commonly known, was included in the testing.
General deterrents based on average accident risk was the policy decision made by the Victoria government. Personal impairment took a back seat to accident risk. The policy Victoria has adopted is not focusing on drunk or drug drivers; it is after everyone using big buses with lots of lights and road presence. Victoria is the first state in Australia to introduce per se laws. Again, it is about setting a community standard based on the science of accident risk and not on individual’s impairment. The science on accident risk is commonly viewed as excellent and fits in with the community’s call for protection of all road users from road related harm.
I thank the committee for the honour of allowing me to present Victoria's work in this area. I wish the committee well in its important work.