Roadside drug testing postponed

The roadside drug testing that was meant to roll out next week has been rolled back. Transport Minister Kiritapu Allen confirmed the postponement last night, saying

“”Police have advised that through their process to identify the appropriate technology to carry out testing to a level of accuracy that can be used at the roadside, it doesn’t yet exist,” she said.”

Read the full article on the rollback on the 1News website
Read NZ Police’s concerns about the lack of accurate tech on the Police Association website

Basically, the Police don’t have the tech to perform roadside drug tests to a level that would hold up in court because nobody’s built it yet. Not here, not overseas. It doesn’t exist.

Instead, the Police are going to continue to rely on the Compulsory Impairment Test (CIT), which is what they do now for people that they think are driving erratically.

If you get pulled over and can’t stand on one leg and touch your nose or walk in a straight line or whatever, you can be breathalysed or taken to the station for a blood test.

If you test positive for drugs and/or alcohol in your system at a level that indicates current impairment, AND you fail the impairment test AND you’re driving in such a way that you’re putting other people in danger, then that’s a fair cop and you can be charged

Read the full breakdown of what happens in a CIT in the Land Transport (Compulsory Impairment Test) Notice 2009 on the New Zealand Legislation website


The legislation is still in force, with all of its problematic bits still attached. This means that at any point in the future roadside saliva testing could be brought in, whether the tech is good enough or not.

It was rolled back this time because we have a Transport Minister that’s more reasonable than their offshore counterparts. This might be different under someone else.

Our main concerns with the legislation as it is now

People driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol are absolutely dangerous. It’s a relief that the Police are going to keep using the CIT because in combination with the much more accurate blood tests, there’s less likelihood of innocent people being arrested or fined.

But it could still be improved, as far as drugs and driving goes.

The CIT needs to be more precise

The CIT in its current form only really works well for alcohol. A global study done in 2017 as part of the Third International Symposium on Drug-Impaired Driving showed that

  • 81% of substances people had taken were correctly identified using the symptoms in a CIT check
  • 75% of substance combinations people had taken were correctly identified using the symptoms in a CIT check

So that’s a 19% and 25% margin of error, depending on what you’re looking for.

Watch the full presentation on the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction website

Also, the CIT in Aotearoa hasn’t had a revamp since 2009. Quite a bit has changed since then, so it definitely could do with a review.

Testing needs to be accurate to the situation

At the moment drug testing is being used as a blanket drug-detection tool, which is not really all that useful. This is why the longevity of drugs in your blood, urine, and hair is problematic in the drug testing models used in workplaces now.

So while we welcome the police’s rejection of inaccurate saliva testing, we would like to see more focus on development of a better toolbox to accurately detect impairment rather than pursuit of tests that rely on detection and presence as their main indicator. After all, it’s impaired driving that causes accidents. Until then the testing process is only going to be semi-useful, and that’s ONLY if it’s used in conjunction with the CIT (if it’s updated).

Further reading

The Enhanced Drug Driver Testing cover sheet, Treasury website
This is the proposal that the Associate Minister of Transport put out in 2020 to ask for funding.

There are a bunch of red flags in this due to spurious claims and lack of evidence, but the main one for us is the correlation between the saliva testing and ‘lives saved’.

There is no proof that roadside drug testing reduces road fatalities, and yet MoT have the audacity to ask for money to roll this out?

Roadside drug testing: Not even once
Our review of the legislation when it was announced last year. We didn’t agree with it then, and we still don’t agree with it now.

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