Roadside drug tests set to begin over Easter weekend

Roadside drug tests will be in operation by the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

Last December, the Oireachtas passed the Road Traffic Act 2016 which, amongst other provisions, paved the way for the drug testing of drivers’ saliva both in Garda stations and by the roadside.

As a result, drivers will soon be able to be put through mandatory intoxicant testing rather than just mandatory alcohol testing.

Four types of drugs will be testable — cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and benzodiazepines — and levels will be set which will mean if drivers go over those limits gardaí will not have to prove impairment. Other drugs could be added to the tests in the future.

Drivers who, for example, are prescribed to take medical cannabinoids will be able to carry notes of exemption.

Drivers’ saliva will be tested with a single-use swab and, in recent weeks, gardaí have been in training on how to use the new kits.

Transport Minister Shane Ross, when announcing the passing of the Road Traffic Bill, said: “Drivers abusing drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and opiate and driving while impaired will face a minimum disqualification of four years for their first offence and six years for their second and subsequent offence”.

Justice Minister Frances confirmed the tests will start at Easter.

“This will provide a valuable opportunity to highlight the dangers of drug driving over the bank holiday weekend,” she said. “I look forward to the introduction of the preliminary drug tests and am confident that these new road traffic enforcement measures will impact positively on road safety.”

She had been asked by Fianna Fáil’s John Curran what action she would take to deal with persons who flout the law by driving while banned. He said such drivers are responsible for killing 11 to 14 persons on roads every year and that there are almost 8,000 drivers who have multiple concurrent disqualifications on their licences.

She said she has been told by the Garda authorities that 19,290 offences of driving without a driving licence, contrary to section 38 of the Road Traffic Act were detected in 2016: “This is the category of offence which drivers caught driving while disqualified are prosecuted under.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the gardaí’s Modernisation and Renewal Programme (2016-2021) sets out key strategic objectives for road policing.

“Under the programme, the Garda commissioner will undertake a number of road safety traffic enforcement initiatives, including expanding the use of technology and increasing checkpoints,” said Ms Fitzgerald. “A number of important actions are being taken to build on the vital work of An Garda Síochána, Road Safety Authority and other stakeholders.

“In January, An Garda Síochána indicated that there will be a 10% increase in the traffic corps during the course of 2017.

“An Garda Síochána also indicated it was intended to have a stronger focus on road traffic enforcement in the training provided to new recruits at Templemore.”

The minister said the Road Traffic Act 2016 provides for insurance companies to collect driver numbers and other details when selling insurance policies, and to validate them with the national vehicle and driver file, which will ensure that disqualified drivers are not able to obtain insurance.”

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