More than a third of northern rivers drivers who tested positive to roadside drug tests in a recent statewide police operation were deemed ‘false positives’ after re-testing again in mobile buses.
That’s according to figures obtained by the Echonetdaily this week, following Operation Saturation, a statewide initiative between the NSW Centre for Road Safety and the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command.
The operation began on 9 June 2015 and ran until 6 July 2015.
Upon its completion, NSW Police issued a media release detailing some of the results of the operation.
Acting assistant commissioner Stuart Smith of the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command was quoted saying the main focus of the operation were ‘those speeding, drink or drug driving, distracted by a mobile phone, and not wearing a seatbelt or proper helmet’.
Given the recent controversial introduction of widespread roadside drug testing in the northern rivers area, Echonetdaily requested a breakdown of the drug-driving arrests.
After initially being told the figures were unavailable, a spokesman finally provided figures for the Richmond and Byron/Tweed Local Area Commands.
Statewide figures have not yet been provided.
The figures showed that during the month-long campaign, a total of 1,376 drug swabs were administered.
Of those, 174 drivers were deemed to be positive once tested again in the mobile testing bus.
But the figures also showed that 72 drivers, who initially tested positive to the drug wipe, were then deemed to be ‘false positives’ when tested again in the bus.
A spokesman from NSW Police media contacted the Echonetdaily this morning asking that the false positive figures be withheld from publication as those results were still subject to further testing in a laboratory.
Echonetdaily refused the request.
Lismore solicitor Steve Bolt said the ‘great mischief’ was that the testing regime was picking up very low levels of THC.
‘To test positive then negative it may be that there is THC in your saliva but possibly only a trace,’ he said.
‘That’s consistent with recent cases of people telling the court that they hadn’t smoked for a number of days.
‘So people are being charged on the basis of THC being detected but not on whether there is impairment.
‘That charge would be driving under the influence of a drug.’
‘This law and testing should be about road safety and it’s not. People are being punished just by having to go to court.
‘There are also issues of people being unfairly targeted because police don’t require any particular reason to stop the car so the term random is unfortunate,’ Mr Bolt said.
Echonetdaily has spoken with a number of drivers who have been subjected to roadside drug testing, have returned positive results, but claim to have not smoked cannabis for days.
Some drivers have then been pulled over again within days for a ‘random’ test.
One driver, visiting from South Australia, who asked to remain anonymous, was recently put off the road for 24 hours after testing positive.
About a week later, the same driver was again pulled over for a drug test after being followed by a highway patrol car, which had been heading in the opposite direction.
The driver asked the police officer whether his vehicle had been flagged as a result of the previous test, and claims that the officer finally admitted that it had.
The driver refused another test, admitting to the officer that he used cannabis tincture for an injured back, and was allowed to proceed without being tested.
The NSW Greens party recently put a freedom of information request to NSW Police in an attempt to determine the science behind the testing regime.
The Hemp Embassy at Nimbin has also been highly critical of the testing regime, saying it unfairly targeted cannabis users.
Hemp Embassy president Michael Balderstone said people were angry because the new drug testing equipment being used was extremely sensitive and detected cannabis traces days after use, regardless of whether the driver was impaired or not.
The testing devices do not detect opiates or pharmaceutical medications, which are known to impair driving.
‘They trebled this roadside testing to catch ice. But how many dolphins (cannabis users) are being caught in their shark nets?
‘We need an urgent inquiry into this testing. No other country is testing like this. In fact in states overseas where cannabis has been legalized, there has been a 10 per cent drop in car accidents, as well as alcohol use.’
‘We’re the easy bust. It’s easily the least harmful and safest and people are using other drugs that they won’t get tested for.’
Echonetdaily has requested an interview with the officer in charge of Operation Saturation.