Speaking to media today, Victoria Police assistant commissioner Doug Fryer (pictured below) said while speed remains the number one killer on Victorian roads, police are seeing a “significant increase” in illicit drugs being the determining factor in fatal and injury trauma.
“It took a couple of decades for Victorians, and indeed Australians, to understand the dangers of drink driving,” Fryer said.
“We’re now testing, in Victoria alone, about four million people a year for drink driving and we apprehend about 12,000 a year, or one in 574. In the current data, around one in 15 of drivers detected are [testing] positive for illicit drugs.”
Victoria Police say in 2015, just over 100,000 drivers were tested for illicit drugs, with more than 6600 drivers testing positive – 73 per cent of which, tested positive for amphetamines such as speed or methamphetamines such as ice.
“We are finding 18 drivers a day testing positive for illicit drugs,” Fryer said.
“We’re also seeing a significant increase in the amount of trauma or injuries where illicit drugs are being found.
“And again, we’re finding a strike rate of one in 11 of our serious injuries are testing positive for illicit drugs. And again, the prevalence – in amongst those illicit drugs – is amphetamine.”
According to Victoria Police, 2013 marked the first year that illicit drugs overtook alcohol as the determining factor in fatal collisions.
That year, 39 fatal collisions involved drivers with illicit drugs in their system versus 28 fatal collisions for alcohol-affected drivers. In 2014, the figures were, 32 and 22 respectively.
“We know in 2015, it is the same,” Fryer said.
“Three years running, illicit drugs has overtaken alcohol as the determining factor in fatal collisions.”
Far from being limited to specific criminal circles, the assistant commissioner says the normalisation of illicit drug use is widespread.
“People are normalising illicit drugs when they shouldn’t be.
“We’re finding that this is not just hardened criminals or the criminal element, we’ve had a number of people who are 65-years-plus testing positive for amphetamines. We’re getting mums with their six-month-old babies in the backseat testing positive for amphetamines.
“This is not just a particular demographic in the community, it’s an all-of-community problem.”
To further make the point, assistant commissioner Fryer even highlighted recent cases of mums dropping kids off at schools testing positive for amphetamines.
Victoria Police says in 2014, 504 injured drivers on Victorian roads had alcohol in their system, while 594 had illicit drugs in theirs.
Quoting national household survey figures that suggest around 80 per cent of Victorians use alcohol, compared with 15 per cent for illicit drugs, Fryer says Victoria Police’s data shows “significant overrepresentation” for dug-affected drivers in the community.
“On New Year’s Day, the first of the first this year, between 6am and 9:30am, we had a drug bus set up [in Melbourne’s east]. In the space of three hours, we apprehended 23 drug drivers and 22 drink drivers. That is how prevalent it is.”
Given the ongoing data, Fryer says there is current discussion related to reaching parody between penalties for both drug and drink driving, however, “that matter’s with government at the moment”.
For the record, Victoria Police says second time offending drug drivers will not only lose their license but also have their car impounded.
Fryer admits the while every police car can initiate testing for impairment or drug driving, current drug testing procedures are more expensive than existing alcohol testing.
“It is an expensive process but it is an important process,” Fryer said.
“It is a more expensive test. It takes longer than a drink driving test but it is important that we understand and action this as soon as we can because it is overrepresented in our fatal trauma, it’s overrepresented in our injury trauma.”
Fryer said the Victorian government has committed to delivering 10 new drug/booze buses over the next 18 months, with six of the 10 being smaller, more agile units aimed at better tackling drug- and alcohol-affected drivers avoiding main roads via backstreets.
According to the latest Victoria Police data, Victoria’s annual road toll for 2015 was 252 – up 1.6 per cent on 2014’s 248 total.
At the time of publishing – January 7, 2016 – Victoria’s road toll stands at two – one less than the same time last year but two more than the same time in 2014.
What do you think is of bigger concern, drugs, alcohol or speed? And what do you think should be done to tackle the problems? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.