Significant numbers of South Africans drive under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol, according to the results of a roadside drug testing pilot programme.
Trimega Diagnostics, the manufacturer of DrugAlyzer, a portable drug screening device, conducted random drug driving tests in 22 roadblocks throughout the country between April and November this year. They tested for alcohol by means of the standard breathalyser test at the same time.
Of the 269 drivers tested, 19% tested positive for both alcohol and drugs.
In total, twice as many tested positive for alcohol as for narcotic drugs (28% and 14% respectively).
DrugAlyzer tests for the presence of cocaine, heroin, dagga, tik and ecstacy in saliva and sweat. It does not detect a percentage level of a drug, but will determine drug usage by type. After alcohol, amphetamines (ecstacy), methamphetamines (tik) and cocaine were the most common drugs picked up in the survey. All of the drugs that were tested for act on the central nervous system and can impair driving.
Alcohol-impaired driving was prevalent from 5pm and peaked towards midnight and during the early hours of the morning. Drug-impaired driving , on the other hand, was primarily observed from 8pm, but occurred throughout the day.
The pilot programme was conducted in conjunction with law enforcement agencies across the country and the Department of Community Safety in an attempt to promote awareness of drugged driving, and to test the efficacy of the screening tool.
The Department of Community Safety has ordered two DrugAlyzers and will use them during the department's Safer Summer Season programme. The drug tests will be used in joint operations with the SAPS at various roadblocks.
According to the Ministry of Community Safety, drugged drivers won't be prosecuted at this stage as the justice department needs to finalise prosecutorial implications of the DrugAlyzer results.
The screening devices alone would not serve as a basis for prosecution and provisions would need to be made for the confirmation of results through laboratory testing.
Trimega suggests that when a particular drug test is positive, the suspect should be transported to a medical facility for a blood test. The use of the screening device saves time in that the number of suspects is narrowed down and the cost of testing can be restricted to certain drugs.
The South African road traffic fatality rate is one of the highest in the world and nearly double the world average. The cost to the economy exceeds R42.5 billion per year.
"The term 'accident' implies a degree of randomness, unpredictability and inevitability, and is incorrect," says Avi Lasarow, founder member of Trimega Diagnostics. "Road traffic collisions arise from known risk factors. Anyone taking narcotics and/or alcohol, and who knowingly climbs into a car to drive - as such, this is no 'accident'."
(Ilse Pauw, Health24, November 2008)
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