Drug driver testing consultation by Government

Last week National MP Nick Smith tried to get a members’ bill trying to address drug driving fast tracked in Parliament.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I seek leave of the House for the Land Transport (Roadside Drug Testing) Amendment Bill to be set down as the first members’ order of the day on the next members’ day on 22 May.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard intervened himself (an unusual move from the Speaker who is supposed to be neutral), and when Smith reacted in response sent Smith from Parliament. This escalated when Smith over-reacted and was then officially ‘named’ by the Speaker and copped a 1 day ban from Parliament.

See Nick Smith named and suspended from Parliament for “grossly disorderly conduct”

This week the Government decided to do something about drug driver testing themselves.

Safety focus in improved drug driver testing

Improving the safety of all road users is the focus of a new public consultation document on the issue of drug driver testing.

Plans for public consultation on options to improve the drug driver testing process have been announced by Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter and Minister of Police Stuart Nash.

Julie Anne Genter said: “While drug drivers already face serious criminal penalties if caught, the current law makes it hard for Police to carry out higher numbers of tests that could deter drug driving.

“And unlike with alcohol testing, drug testing comes with some unique challenges, which is why we want expert and public input into the design process.   For example, unlike alcohol breath tests, drug tests can only detect the presence of drugs or medication. They cannot test if a driver is impaired.

“We know the public wants to be involved in the development of legislation that will impact them. Consultation will ensure changes to the current system incorporate the needs and wishes of New Zealanders.

“A considered approach to developing enhanced drug driver testing will mean we can develop a robust testing system that’s grounded in evidence and best practice. We need to do this thoughtfully,” says Julie Anne Genter.

“Irrespective of whether someone is impaired by alcohol, medication or recreational drugs, they shouldn’t be behind the wheel,” says Stuart Nash.

“Last year, 71 people were killed in crashes where a driver was found to have drugs or medication in their system which may have impaired their driving.  That compares to 109 deaths where a driver was found to have alcohol in their system.

“We need to do more to stop dangerous drivers getting behind the wheel and enforcement on our roads is a key part of this.  However Police cannot do this on their own. Every one of us must challenge dangerous driving behaviours when we see them,” Mr Nash said.

Consultation will take place over the next six weeks, concluding on Friday 28 June. The Government will be looking to confirm its options at the end of this year.

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.

Ministry of Transport:  Drug Driving

Changes to the drug driver testing and enforcement system in New Zealand

The Government is considering making changes to New Zealand’s drug driver testing and enforcement regime. Research shows that many illicit and prescription drugs have the potential to impair driving, and studies show that New Zealanders are using those drugs and driving.

Addressing drug impaired driving is an important objective if we are to make our roads safer – since 2013, the number of road deaths in New Zealand has increased by nearly 50 percent. Drug driving is making an increasing contribution to this statistic.

The Government has decided that it is time to reconsider our approach to drug driving and the public should be involved in that conversation.

A Discussion Document has been developed to facilitate a conversation about possible approaches to improving our drug driving system. The consultation seeks feedback about:

  • How we can be better at detecting drug drivers and deterring drug driving?
  • The circumstances in which drivers should be tested for drugs?
  • How to decide which drugs to test for?
  • What evidence is required to establish a drug driving offence?
  • How we should deal with people caught drug driving?

Download the Discussion Document [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Consultation process

The Ministry requests written submissions and they must arrive by 5.00 pm Friday 28 June 2019 to be considered. Submissions can be forwarded to the Ministry at:



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  1. Reinvented

     /  15th May 2019

    ‘… which may have impaired their driving.’ That’s the rub if you are talking about actual impairment.

    The effects of alcohol, a simple water soluble chemical, and the level at which impairment is measurable has long been established. 8omg per 100mls blood or 400 mgms per litre of breath is it as I recall. The current level that gets you banned for a day with a big fine and demerit points is knee-jerk reaction. It appears virtually everyone reacts the same way and the argument that some people can hold their booze is a myth when you test their reactions. The manner in which the body processes alcohol is also well understood and its easy to calculate impairment at some earlier time from a reading obtained. The English police can backdate your test to the time of an earlier accident to ping you but that’s not done here.

    At the time I looked into dope effects dope was far more difficult to rule on because the measured effects on individuals at a set level varied widely. Another issue around dope was that its a vastly more complicated mix of chemicals to begin with. Irrespective of laws around this elsewhere, impairment at any given level cannot be established by a drug test alone.

    I never looked into other drugs as they were not encountered in fatal accidents when I did my wee project. Drug use has changed a bit since then with people doing far more than just booze and dope. I remain of a view the advantage of alcohol related legislation is its simplicity of cause and effect which other drugs do not appear to have so law makers may have their work cut out for them if they think a measure of level alone will make a significant difference to road death stats.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  15th May 2019

      Evidence-based road safety policy would be a novel approach for NZ but politically unlikely.

  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  15th May 2019

    The new tests can test accurately for drugs, but JAG came across as a feeble fence-sitter who hadn’t done her homework. The interview was all her embarrassing herself and looking like a fool.

    Actually, liquor does affect people differently, often because of size. When one of the networks gave people the same amount of alcohol and tested them, some were much worse affected than others. One large man (rugby player size) was hardly affected at all by it, some others were quite tipsy. But the law can’t take that into account, it has to be a set amount.

    • Its not really resolved, even in Canada. https://globalnews.ca/news/5203345/cannabis-impairment-test-canada/

      The best thing is more training in impairment testing, and more actual on the road testing. All this is a moot point when the police presence is feeble, it must be 3+ years since I’ve been to a random checkpoint for testing…

      • Duker

         /  15th May 2019

        Impairment is legal minefield, that’s why alcohol switched to defined level in breath and blood.
        Talking about impairment now is just a ruse and a straw man to suit the drug lobby

        • setting a defined level (usually detectable yes/no) is a ruse for a failed policy.

          With Cannabis and its metabolites, you would have to take a blood test, hold them a few hours and take another blood test to ascertain (very accurately) if the use was recent and impairing, or a residual from prior use.

          • Duker

             /  16th May 2019

            We already have work based drug testing that uses ‘drug use on its own’ as grounds for dismissal. Its like chasing your tail to get the exact moment you were ‘peak impairment’ AND driving.

            For roadside testing, if theres no impairment you wont see erratic driving like the police do when stopping drunks.
            What the cops do find if they stop a car is the strong smell of cannabis- thats a good reason to test in a defined way to survive legal challenge in court.

            The message is dont drink and drive- a common sense simple strategy as impairment is not something individuals can judge that well. The same applies to drugs, if you use cannabis in a car the police will test you if stopped.

    • Reinvented

       /  16th May 2019

      Alcohol testing in NZ measures concentration rather than quantity in isolation so automatically adjusts for subject weight. While its true a heavier person can drink more than a lighter one for the same result (they have more water content into which the alcohol is absorbed) the fact remains that impairment is effectively what is measured on the roadside because the old 80/400 test limit was a proportional measure based on science rather than emotion. That impairment is apparent at that level is consistent across the population.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  16th May 2019

        Are you saying what I was saying – that there has to be an arbitrary level for drink driving rather than an individual one ?

  3. All good.. use any means possible, to keep intoxicated drivers off the road !

    BUT please dont start trying to use this, as another excuse, to vote NO in the ‘reeferendum’.. people will still drive drunk or high, regardless of the legal status of the drug

    I have read that police overseas, (Canada, USA, EU etc.) are reportedly, now finding much higher levels of ‘stoned drivers’ (since law reform) OR is it that they are now, specifically testing for it ?

    • Duker

       /  16th May 2019

      “I have read that police overseas, (Canada, USA, EU etc.) are reportedly, now finding much higher levels of ‘stoned drivers’ (since law reform) ”

      To you any evidence against cannabis cant be real evidence as in your mind its this happy drug that makes every better and if it could could be added to water supply would be even better.
      I used to think it was harmless but as I never smoked tobacco never used apart from a couple of times , interestingly the effect was immediate- so much for the impairment waffle. Life experience has led to contact with other who either had stroke from daily smoking or others who are addicted in a bad way- all would have started when young
      Im surprised that other poster child european countries didnt legalise at all ( netherlands, Portugal) in the way NZ has proposed , ie manufacture and distribution- as they could realise once you go down that path there is no going back.
      For various reasons we have amazing programs for childrens teeth care but a low level funded drug treatment system.


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