New Zealand faces challenges with impairment testing

May 24, 2023

 Over the past year, New Zealand has faced some significant challenges to the implementation of random roadside impairment testing. In March 2022, the New Zealand government passed the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill which allowed police to conduct random saliva-based roadside drug tests on drivers starting in March 2023. 

According to the new legislation, individuals who tested positive for drug use faced a fine, demerit points, and a 12-hour suspension from driving.  

While New Zealand police has spent over $1 million to implement new roadside drug testing laws, roadside testing has not been started since the oral tests required do not exist. 

The tests were required to be able to detect an impairment level, similar to a roadside alcohol test, but the only tests available are only able to detect the presence of specific drugs. 

“Two of the three [oral] devices have completed independent testing, neither device meet the verification criteria … Logistics issues delayed delivery of third device. Early indication is that if a device is not identified by the end of September that this is likely to impact on the ability to deliver roadside [oral drug] testing as of March 2023,” said the police report released by New Zealand police in August 2022.

Subsequently, in November 2022, the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill was classified as ‘red’ due to the high risk of non-delivery. “It’s simply disappointing this wasn’t addressed earlier. We were making a number of requests about this for many months and didn’t get any replies that clarified the issue,” said Police Association president Chris Cahill.

“They’ve passed the legislation so that once the device is found or invented, the legislation is already in place, so you could say they’ve put the cart before the horse, and they’ve come up with a great idea that can’t actually achieve anything because it doesn’t exist,” he added.  

“It’s a bit frustrating I’d have to say because I certainly think the expectation was that we’d have this legislation available to us to use come March 11 and that clearly isn’t the case.” 

Ministry of Transport Road to Zero director Bryan Sherritt said that police will continue to identify drug-impaired drivers using their compulsory impairment test method and “seek a blood test to confirm the presence or concentration of qualifying drugs if required.”  

Currently, the Ministry of Transport and police officials are gathering further advice for ministers on what the next steps would be for random roadside drug testing.