NSW drivers will now be tested for cocaine as authorities work to curb the state’s horror road toll which has seen 17 people die this year after 392 people were killed in 2017, which was an eight-year high.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday announced a raft of tough new measures, including doubling the number of roadside drug tests by 2020, increasing penalties for drug drivers and looking to reduce the risk posed by people taking prescription drugs.
The announcement comes as 29-year-old actor Jessica Falkholt clings to life in a Sydney hospital after her family was wiped out in a Boxing Day car crash involving a driver with a shocking driving history on his way home from a Nowra methadone clinic.
“Too many people and too many families have been left distraught over what should be a very happy time of the year,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
“People should not be taking illegal drugs and then getting behind the wheel.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn says cocaine will be added to the list of drugs subject to roadside testing including cannabis, ecstasy and ice.
“Those drugs that are illegal, people shouldn’t be taking them anyway and shouldn’t be driving under any circumstance,” Ms Burn told reporters.
Following the Falkholt crash, an inter-agency working group will be created to tackle the issue of people driving under the influence of prescribed medications such as methadone, valium and codeine, NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said.
The working group will include representatives from the Centre for Road Safety, NSW Police, the Department of Justice and NSW Health.
“There is an onus of responsibility on the individual and on medical practitioners to ensure that motorists aren’t affected by prescribed medications,” Ms Pavey said.
“We want to make sure the rules and the situations around this are robust.”
Roads minister Melinda Pavey said driving under the influence of drugs had emerged as a significant factor in the state’s road toll – along with speeding and fatigue.
The NSW Greens support cocaine testing but are calling for prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines, which includes valium, to also be targeted in roadside tests.
“Benzodiazepines are present in almost a third of drivers involved in drug- related crashes and their misuse puts other road users at risk,” Greens MP David Shoebridge said in a statement.
Ms Berejiklian has not ruled out further strengthening of measures.
“We need to make sure that whatever measures we put in place actually have the right outcome,” the premier said.