Australia’s drug driving laws have come in for a fair amount of scrutiny in recent months, and so they should. The way in which the current laws are set up means that many people who are of absolutely no danger to other drivers on the road are being arrested, taken to court, often banned from driving and given criminal records. This is massively unfair and unwarranted and something that the Australian government and courts should seek to change.
Current laws on drink driving see drivers being allowed a small dose of alcohol before getting behind the wheel. As long as a person’s blood alcohol content is below 0.05 percent they will not be punished and charged with breaking drink driving laws. This law was decided upon after years of research and analysis to determine whether it is in fact dangerous to drive while drunk. The overall conclusion was that, yes it is dangerous to drive while under the influence of alcohol, but very small doses are unlikely to impair your vision, reactions or decision making skills, hence the 0.05 percent limit.
Drug driving laws on the other hand are entirely prohibitionary, meaning that absolutely no traces of a drug can be found in your body should you be pulled over and tested. In creating this law, no analysis was carried out, no data was compiled and no tests where undertaken. Instead legislators simply decided that no one should be allowed to drive while they have any traces of drugs in their body. This seems like a fairly lazy option, the one that requires the least amount of thinking and work but has the most significant and dangerous consequences for the citizens of Australia.
The reason that these drug laws are so dangerous is that they punish people who are of no danger to any member of the public, in order to deter others who may be a danger. This leads to the courts processing and charging people that have smoked cannabis, for example, days before getting into their car. Even though all of the physical and mental effects of the drug have no doubt worn off already, traces of cannabis can last in the blood stream for days, sometimes more. Without sufficient tests, or even a limit on the amount of a substance that you are allowed in your bloodstream, people who are just as safe and aware as every other normal driver on the road are being punished.
The Chair of the Australian Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, stated that “One of the problems with ‘zero tolerance’ drug driving laws is that they punish some drivers who are not impaired as a way of deterring other drivers who might be impaired or might become impaired from driving. This is what we call ‘vicarious punishment’ and it offends basic notions of fairness.”
So is there anything being done about these unjust punishments? Not at present, in fact, they are on the up. A massive Random Drug Testing (RDT) drive has been put into place in the last several years and by 2017 Victoria expects to have tested 200,000 drivers, while New South Wales will have tested 100,000. Most of these RDTs are geared to test for the active ingredients in cannabis and amphetamines, such as ecstasy. So what guidelines are being given to drivers who may want to know how long they should wait after taking drugs before getting behind the wheel? A recent study by the Huffington Post found that every state in Australia gives out different advice on how long THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, will take to leave your system.
New South Wales, Northern Territory and Western Australian guidelines range between 4 and 12 hours, while Victoria states 24 hours, South Australia says “several hours” and Tasmania simply warns that it is illegal to get caught with THC in your system, giving no timeframe whatsoever. Citizens of Australia really are being sent mixed messages by the different states across the country and none of them seem entirely accurate, however it does remain categorically prohibited in all states to drive with THC in your system and will likely lead to you losing your licence.
A slice of good news for those worried by these unfair and punitive laws is that they can be beaten. A Lismore man recently fought and won his case after he was tested and charged a whole nine days after taking cannabis. This shows that, one; the afore mentioned state guidelines are nothing more than a made up estimate of how long THC will remain in your system, and two; that it is possible to avoid the punishment should you be able to prove that you were not influenced by the drug at the time of your arrest. This would likely take a lot of time and money however and distracts from the principle point that the current ‘zero tolerance’ policy is nothing short of ridiculous.
With the imminent introduction of medical marijuana to Australia, the authorities must now take the time to have a serious look at these laws and what can be done to make them more reasonable. It would certainly not be fair to, on one hand, offer the nation a medicine that contains THC and then on the other, ban them from driving for day after taking it.
Some states in America, where cannabis is now decriminalised for medical and recreational use, have already taken steps to ensure that their drug driving laws are no longer juxtaposed to their drug laws by bringing in a limit, much like the one that we currently have with alcohol. Whether this method will work or not is yet to be seen. Serious amounts of data must be collected and analysed before we know for certain what the laws surrounding drug driving should be, but one thing is for sure, the current set up in Australia is lazy, punitive and unjust and it must be changed.