Results from the Drug Foundation’s survey into driving and drugs suggest “cannabis driving” is a serious road safety issue in New Zealand.
Nearly 1200 New Zealanders completed the anonymous online survey which closed early this year. It asked what respondents knew and thought about driving and drugs and about their own drug driving behaviours.
The results, which were released today by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne at the national ‘Cutting Edge’ drug treatment conference in Wellington, suggest driving under the influence of cannabis is relatively common.
A quarter of drivers who completed the survey (24.5 percent) admitted driving after taking cannabis in the last year while 21.4 percent admitted to drink driving. Based on rates of cannabis use in the general population this means up to 12 percent of New Zealand drivers may have driven under the influence of cannabis in the last year.
The survey also showed the more a person used a particular drug, such as cannabis, the more likely they were to think it okay to drive after using it. More than half of respondents (56.4 percent) said taking cannabis did not affect their driving ability and 16.4 percent even said it made their driving “slightly better”.
Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says this is a serious concern because there’s a growing body of evidence that cannabis use impairs driving ability.
“Some cannabis users may feel like their driving is unaffected or better while they’re high, but studies show they have slower reaction times, are less able to control their vehicles and are much more likely to cause collisions.
“It’s a similar mindset to the drunk drivers of yesteryear who said their driving improved after a few drinks. No one seriously believes that anymore and we need a similar attitude shift in people who think it’s okay to take drugs and drive.”
The survey also revealed that while most people thought roadside drug-testing would improve road safety, there is a general lack of knowledge about the effects drugs have on driving.
“Research tells us the most effective ways to prevent drug driving include both public education and enforcement,” Mr Bell said.
“We need to shatter the complacent illusion some people have that their drug driving is somehow not dangerous.
“No matter how bullet-proof you think you are, if you do it, you're more likely to cause a crash and there’s a good chance you will get caught.”
The passing of the Land Transport Amendment Act in June means that, from December, Police will have the power to conduct compulsory roadside tests on drivers they suspect have taken drugs.
Mr Bell said the survey shows roadside drug testing is likely to be accepted quickly by New Zealand communities and that survey results would be used to inform the development of other prevention initiatives and resources.
(Page numbers from the report are included for more information)
 National Household Survey Reference: Wilkins, C. & Sweetsur, P. (2008). Trends in population drug use in New Zealand: findings from national household surveying of drug use in 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2006. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 121(1274), 61-71.
 Wilkins, C. & Sweetsur, P. (2008). Trends in population drug use in New Zealand: findings from national household surveying of drug use in 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2006. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 121(1274), 61-71.
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.
95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.