THE region’s battle with illegal drugs on the road is growing as new figures reveal nine people have lost their life locally by getting behind the wheel while under the influence.
According to the Centre for Road Safety figures released this month, the nine motorists were under the influence of cannabis, ecstasy or speed when they were killed between January 2010 and December last year.
And as technology to detect the dangerous behaviour continually evolves, the number of detections will continue to rise while ever locals put their lives at risk.
“The percentages of positives of the amount of drugs is extraordinary, especially in a country town, away from Sydney or Newcastle,” highway patrol Senior Sergeant Peter McMenamin told The Leader.
The nine lives lost makes the New England, encompassing the Oxley, New England and Barwon commands, the sixth deadliest region across the state for DUI behind the North Coast, Sydney, the Hunter, Illawarra and Orana.
While metropolitan roads took the cake for the most drug-driving offences, most fatal crashes involving a drugged driver were on country roads.
“Your body breaks alcohol down over a relatively even period, but illegal drugs, depending on what is consumed, can stay in your system for days,” Senior Sergeant McMenamin said.
“It’s obviously a significant problem, not just in Tamworth but smaller, satellite towns like Gunnedah, Narrabri and the like.
“And looking at the data compared to tests, it’s a significant problem in every area around the state.”
The statistics have been analysed from crashes between January 2010 and December 2013 involving cannabis, speed or ecstasy.
In May this year, a police drug-bus blitz on Tamworth roads found one in seven drivers were getting behind the wheel with illegal drugs in their system – an offence that landed them in court, luckily, before an accident.
“Just the fact you have an illicit drug in your system is sufficient for a charge to be proven in court,” Senior Sergeant McMenamin said.
“It’s simple. You can’t be taking illegal drugs and then driving on the road.”
Police only began testing for the three illegal drugs on the roadside in 2007, but that process has come a long way, and continues to evolve, making detections faster and more accurate.
According to the report, experts estimate motorists are 32 times more likely to be killed in a crash when using alcohol and illegal drugs.
And the consequences can not only be fatal, driving under the influence and killing someone else can result in a prison sentence.
“You are in serious strife and you will be going to jail,” he said.
“There is no excuse; everyone has a choice, and you need to make the right choice – to protect yourself and protect the community.”