POLICE will conduct more roadside drug testing in the western region as part of a new initiative.
Police officers at some single officer stations in Corangamite Shire, such as Skipton, have been trained to conduct roadside drug tests in an effort to address the over-representation of serious injuries and fatal collisions in regional Victoria, of which drugs and alcohol are often contributing factors.
As part of Victoria Police's involvement in the Towards Zero road strategy 2016-20 - in which the goal is to reduce the amount of lives lost in road accidents to fewer than 200 and the number of serious injuries by 15 per cent by 2020 - officers at Harrow, Lake Bolac, Wycheproof, Manangatang, Stanhope and Edenhope are able to conduct random roadside drug testing as part of a trial from this week.
Until recently roadside drug testing could only be undertaken by specialist units including state and local highway patrol and the Road Policing Drug and Alcohol Section (RPDAS).
According to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), in the past five years approximately 41 per cent of all drivers and motorcyclists tested after being killed on Victorian roads had drugs - most commonly cannabis and stimulants - in their system. This statistic also includes prescription medication.
Leading Senior Constable Craig Walker of Skipton Police Station is one of the officers taking part in the trial.
A member of Ballarat Highway Patrol for six and a half years, he is knowledgeable about the dangers of drug impaired driving.
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He has been stationed at Skipton for two years and said one of the most demanding elements of the job was policing the Glenelg and Western highways.
While previously qualified to undertake random drug testing, he recently undertook a refresher course so that in addition to being able to conduct random breath testing out at Skipton, he is now able to conduct random drug testing on the roadside.
"It will be a great deterrent because the Highway Patrol can't cover every road so it's good these smaller stations have the capability, as part of the trial, to help to reduce road trauma," he said.
His ability to conduct drug testing will not only benefit Skipton but the wider Corangamite area, as all of the equipment the officers need to conduct drug and alcohol testing can be kept in their vehicles.
Camperdown Senior Sergeant Bill Caldow said the police's role to encourage safer road use through highly visible enforcement, deterrence and community engagement was strengthened by the capability for officers in small regional towns to enforce around drug driving - which is now exceeding drink driving as one of the leading causes of serious injuries and fatalities on Victorian roads.
"We are changing some of the ways we do business around here to better enforce our road policing," he said.
Senior Sergeant Caldow said other initiatives had also been put in place throughout Corangamite, such as officers clocking on earlier in the morning, in order to provide greater enforcement of the road rules throughout the region.
Western region Superintendent Peter Greaney said when an opportunity arose to allocate some of the 150,000 drug tests Victoria Police would conduct in the 2019-20 financial year to officers in single member stations, police jumped at the opportunity.
Leading into the festive season - traditionally a period high in road trauma - and with 253 lives lost on state roads in the year to date, he said any opportunity to reduce the severity and incidence of road trauma was welcomed.
"If this expansion means more police officers can help take even one drug driver off our roads, that's already a huge win for our region," he said.
It is hoped the increased police presence and knowledge that officers will undertake more drug testing across the region will influence driver attitudes and deter people from making dangerous decisions such as getting behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Drivers can expect to be pulled over for a roadside drug test at any place and any time, so be warned - if you take drugs and drive, you will be caught.- Superintendent Peter Greaney
"If we can deter people from making risky choices to start with, we can save lives on the road."
The trial will run until the end of March 2020 and depending on the results, may expand to other areas.
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