Written by Andrew Fraser
April 20, 2015
Jeff, James and Jill are three Canberra motorists.
Jeff shares a joint of marijuana with a mate on a Saturday night at home and doesn’t drive until going to work on the following Monday.
James has a dozen schooners on the Saturday night and also doesn’t drive until heading to work on the Monday.
Jill has two bottles of wine on the Saturday night, hops straight in her car and gets picked up by police. She returns a Level 4 blood-alcohol reading and is facing an automatic three years’ disqualification from driving.
Jeff and James both get directed into a random-testing queue by police on their way to work on the Monday.
James is waved through.
But Jeff is arrested – and faces being disqualified for as long as Jill.
Like James, he is unaffected at the time of driving, but, under ACT law, that doesn’t matter.
And the latest ACT Criminal Justice Statistical Profile shows that the number of people returning positive roadside random drug tests has skyrocketed 238 per cent on a year ago.
That is more and more people facing harsh penalties when many of them may well not be drug-affected at the time of driving. (The stated purpose of the law is to prevent drug-affected drivers getting behind the wheel).
The reason for the discrepancy between drink-drivers and drug-drivers is that alcohol and its effects can be accurately measured, allowing Parliament to set particular penalties for drivers with particular concentrations of alcohol in their blood. Illicit drugs cannot be so accurately measured and the legislation requires only that a proscribed drug be found in a driver’s system for a prosecution to succeed. While alcohol leaves the body at a steady rate, other drugs, particularly cannabis, can remain in your system for weeks, and even months. This is a strict-liability offence: the police have only to prove that the drug was in your system and that you were behind the wheel.
While ACT legislation makes no distinction between Jeff and Jill, most magistrates are alive to the different scenarios that can lead people before the courts on a drug-driving charge, and can tailor their sentences to the individual circumstances.
The legislative situation is different across the border in NSW.
Rather than the ACT’s operative drink-drive and drug-drive laws, which directly follow each other in the Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act, NSW has another charge that comes in between its main drink-driving and drug-driving sections.
This is Section 111 of the Road Transport Act 2013, prosecuting drivers for the presence of certain drugs (other than alcohol) in oral fluid, blood or urine.
It carries a maximum penalty of a fine of $1100 and a minimum disqualification of only three months (automatic disqualification six months).