Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More drivers test for drugs than for alcohol

Testing for drink driving has helped slash the number of fatal accidents involving alcohol from 40% of the total to 19%. The road toll has fallen overall also. But in an interesting twist of 1600 drivers tested in NSW one in 46 was found to have consumed illicit drugs – amphetamines, ecstasy and cannabis are popular. Random breath testing suggests only one driver in 130 will be over the legal drinking limit.

While random breath testing for alcohol consumption is widely applied there are negligible levels of testing for illicit drugs in NSW though higher levels of testing in Victoria. Moreover, the claim is that consumption of cannabis and amphetamines causes the same impairment to driving skills as exceeding the 0.05 alcohol consumption standard. Some evidence is here.

Rigorously policing the consumption of alcohol consumption among drivers but not penalising the consumption of illicit drugs creates incentives for drivers to strategically choose to consume the latter. Current arrangements represent a misallocation of detection efforts.

Incidentally the swab test used to detect illicit drug consumption only targets the 3 illicit drugs mentioned (and we know that injecting heroin users often drive, see also here) and it does not test for consumption of legally-prescribed drugs that may also impact on driving ability.


Francis Xavier Holden said...

ha - when I owned a semi trailer the local GP used to prescribe speed. All legal.

aah the good old days.

conrad said...

At least from a driving perspective, you need to consider to what extent different drugs make people drive worse (or better, for that matter). It isn't difficult to imagine small doses of some drugs cause people to have less accidents (like caffeine and other stimulants, for instance)

hc said...

Conrad, As I suggest in the link there is evidence on the relative safety effects of various drugs. A surprising issue is that taking benzodiazapines doesn't affecrt driving.

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