Five years on from a horrific Taranaki road crash that killed seven people, including two children, a roadside drug testing regime will come into force.
But despite pushing hard for the testing, relatives of some of those killed in the Waverley crash, which was caused by a driver with drugs in his system, say they won’t celebrate the move until they see it being actively enforced on the nation’s roads.
From early 2023, police will have the power to randomly stop motorists and carry out a saliva-based test that will screen for the presence of substances such as THC (the psycho-active ingredient in cannabis), methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, ecstasy, opioids, and cocaine.
If drugs are detected, people can face a 12-hour driving ban, along with other sanctions including prosecution, depending on the amount involved.
The move was something the family of Ian and Rosalie Porteous publicly championed since the couple’s deaths on June 27, 2018 in Waverley.
At the time the crash was described as the worst in recent New Zealand history.
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Ian, 80, and Rosalie, 76, along with sister Ora Keene, 84, and friend, Brenda Williams, 79, died at the crash scene on the outskirts of the South Taranaki town, along with Jeremy Thompson, 28, who was the driver of the other car, and his six-month-old daughter Shady Thompson.
Nivek Madams, 8, died the following day in hospital. The children’s mother, Ani Nohinohi, was the only survivor.
Following the May 2019 inquest, coroner Tim Scott said while he was unable to establish with absolute certainty what caused Thompson’s car to drift into the opposite lane, drug use played a key role.
Thompson’s post-mortem toxicology test found traces of THC as well as two chemicals connected to synthetic drugs.
In his report Scott backed the introduction of random roadside drug testing, and one month later the Porteous family wrote an open letter to Government asking for it to take urgent action on the issue.
Shelley Porteous said the fight for the change had taken its toll on the family.
The testing, which came into law earlier this month, had been something the grieving family had put all their efforts into, instead of being angry at Thompson for what happened.
While she was pleased the regime was in place, the amount of time it had taken had been frustrating.
“It seems a long time period given the amount of people that die from it (drug driving).”
More than 100 people were killed in crashes in both 2019 and 2020 where a driver was found to have used drugs.
However, Porteous voiced concerns about whether police had enough resources, including officer numbers, to carry out the testing.
“I won’t believe it until we actually hear it’s happening on the roads, that’s when we’ll celebrate,” she said.
“We hope it saves some lives out there.”
In a written response, police said there would be a 12-month implementation period before the testing regime came into effect.
It expected the procurement process for the device to be used for the oral testing would start at the end of this month.
As part of this testing implementation, police will develop guidelines and training for staff on how to administer the approved test correctly.
“Subject to funding and the outcome of procurement of oral fluid test devices, it is intended that Police will deliver 33,000 tests in the first year, scaling up to 66,000 tests by year three.”
The drug driving regime will be reviewed after three years and is part of the Government’s Road to Zero strategy, where it wants to see road deaths and serious injuries reduced to zero by 2050.
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