Tough new penalties for drivers

The state government's Drink and Drug Driving Amendments Bill passsed the Legislative Council on Wednesday.
The state government's Drink and Drug Driving Amendments Bill passsed the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

Drug drivers will face tough new penalties after the state government’s drug driving bill passed through parliament last week.

The Statutes Amendment (Drink and Drug Driving) Bill was introduced to the Legislative Council in May this year by then Police Minister Peter Malinauskas.

The bill made amendments to the Harbors and Navigation Act 1993, the Motor Vehicles Act 1959, the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act 2012 and the Road Traffic Act 1961.

Under the amendments, the new penalties include a three-month licence disqualification for a first drug driving offence, increased licence disqualification periods for repeat drug driving offences which includes a two year loss for a second offence and no less than three for any subsequent offences.

Drivers who have been disqualified for drug driving and are caught driving unlicensed will face penalties up to $5000 or one-year imprisonment and license disqualification of no less than three years.

Police and Road Safety Minister Chris Picton said the passing of the bill was a win after a drawn out process.

“The Liberal Party stalled this important legislation for months and I am very pleased we have been able to pass the Bill through Parliament today,” he said.

“While debate on this Bill has been distracted by periphery issues, this Bill is about road safety. Those who get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol should be put on notice – police will catch you and you will be subject to tough new penalties.”

As well as tougher penalties, the state government was also seeking to allow police the ability to search the vehicle of a person who returns a positive roadside drug test.

This was a recommendation by the Ice Taskforce in a bid to reduce ice use in the community, but this section of the bill was not supported by the Liberals.

Mr Picton took aim at the opposition for their decision to not support that amendment.

“The government will continue to fight to allow police to search drivers and their vehicles if they return a positive roadside drug test,” he said

“The failure of the Liberals to support this common-sense amendment to the Road Traffic Act will deprive Police of an important tool in the fight against drugs.”

The Liberal Party was also seeking to remove the need for police officers to be authorised to undertake roadside drug testing.

Currently there is a three-step process to a drug test which includes the initial screen test, roadside analysis and then finally sending the sample to Forensic Science SA for testing.

Only traffic members have the authority to conduct screen tests and analysis.

Police in the Clare Valley have to rely on the Yorke Mid North Highway Patrol unit to conduct roadside drug testing.

The patrol unit consists of six members, five of which are located in Port Pirie and one located in Peterborough.

Port Pirie police headquarters is located an hour and 20 minutes away from the Clare Police Station and Peterborough police station is located an hour and 23 minutes away.

During the 2016-17 Financial Year, 1030 drug driving tests were conducted by the Yorke Mid North Highway Patrol Unit with 363 detections.