ALMOST twice as many P plate drivers are being caught driving under the influence of drugs as those caught with alcohol in their system, latest figures show, despite only one in ten tests targeting drugs. And the number of drivers with provisional licences busted behind the wheel while drugged on cannabis, speed, or ecstasy has shot up 65 per cent in the past three financial years. Experts blame the trend on the rising drug use, teenage recklessness and a belief among young people that they are less likely to be caught driving high than drunk.
Last financial year, 431 provisional drivers were caught with prescribed drugs in their system, compared to 238 provisional drivers who were driving with a bloodalcohol level above zero. Youth psychologist Dr Michael CarrGregg said the surge in drug detections meant there was “a significant increase in the total number of young drivers behind the wheel when they are high’’ and that is “a huge concern’’ for all road users. “A proportion of them would think they are less likely to get caught drug driving than drink driving — but given a teen’s brain development, some also just don’t give a stuff,’’ Dr CarrGregg said.
“Many think it is easier to conceal from police that they are wired on drugs than smashed on alcohol.’’ Dr CarrGreg said that in some respects, drug drivers may be less of a danger than those who were smashed on booze. “But those using ice (methamphetamine) are highly agitated and it makes them lethal behind the wheel,’’ he said.
The Traffic Support Branch’s Superintendent Bob Fauser said it was “likely that the increase in drug drive detections reflects an increase in the usage of illicit drugs’’. He said the “increase for provisional licence holders is consistent with an overall increase in drug drive detections. Compared to drink driving, SAPOL’s drug driving regimen is relatively new and SAPOL’s tactics are becoming more effective over time.’’ Police conduct around 500,000 DUI tests each year, of which around one in ten involves drug detection.
Despite the ratio, Supt Fauser said SA police conduct “four times more drug testing per population than any other Australian jurisdiction’’. “It is unlikely that the average road user would understand whether that driver screening activity relates to
alcohol, drug testing or both therefore there is a general deterrent effect.’’
While drug driving is on the rise, the number of P plate motorists caught drink driving has dropped 35 per cent in the last three financial years. The Centre for Automotive Safety Research said the difference in drug and drink driving detection rates
among young drivers could be due to perceived risks of getting caught. “In recent years there have been increased levels of drug testing but not to the extent of drink testing,’’ the centre’s expert in driver behaviour Matt Baldock said.
“The fall in drink driving could also reflect young people are latching on to the culture of don’t drink and drive ... and it is well accepted that drink drivers have poor vehicle control and a greater likelihood of crashing but the same thinking doesn’t hold with methamphetamine or cannabis use.’’
As well as welcoming the fall in P plate driver drink driving rates, Supt Fauser was also pleased fewer young motorists were breaking the speed limit. Speeding fines and cautions fell 17 per cent in the past three financial years, police data shows.
The number of Pplaters busted using a mobile phone has also fallen by 8 per cent in the same period. However, Supt Fauser said this may be because young drivers are more likely to use their mobile to text which is “not as visible to police as a driver holding a mobile phone to their ear’’. “Texting while driving can have an even greater negative impact on driving skills than voice calls, so it is important that police develop enforcement tactics that are able to detect texting while driving.’’
Figures also show 215 fines or cautions were issued for driving between midnight and 5am and 52 for driving with two or more passengers.
Source: The Advertiser