Canberra drivers will be warned of the risks of drugged driving as part of a long-awaited public education campaign to raise awareness of controversial roadside police swab tests.
The ACT's zero-tolerance approach to drug driving has come under fire from lawyers, civil liberties groups and the territory's peak drug body, who slammed a lack of public education and said the tests breached human rights.
Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury joined ACT Policing to launch the Drug Driving: Don't Risk It campaign on Friday.
The initiative includes television, radio and print advertisements that highlight the dangers of drug driving and penalties if drivers are caught.
"Last year, four out of the 10 road fatalities in the ACT involved a driver or motorcycle rider with drugs in their system," Mr Rattenbury said.
"Drug use can slow down your reaction time, causing a distorted view of time and distance and also stimulate the nervous system, which can lead to a reduced attention span, and the sudden onset of fatigue as the stimulant effects wear off."
Deputy chief police officer John Bourke said there had been an upward trend in motorists being caught with drugs in their system in the ACT.
He said from more than 2500 random roadside drug tests carried out last year, there were 390 motorists, or one in seven drivers, who returned positive results. About one in 123 tested drivers had alcohol in their system.
Commander Bourke said the rise in drug detection rates was "alarming" and police would aggressively target drug driving in the next three months.
"Every single person who is affected by drugs and driving is a potential fatality or is potentially injuring someone else on the road."
The advertising campaign is the first since zero-tolerance laws were introduced in the ACT in 2011.
The saliva swab tests detect traces of cannabis, methylamphetamine and ecstasy and can return a positive result days after drivers take a drug.
An offence is triggered if tests detect any presence of drugs in the system, and the level of driver impairment is not measured.
Mr Rattenbury acknowledged there had been "a general low level of information" about the tests until now.
He said the campaign was in response to community groups, including Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT, which had agitated for greater awareness.
Concerns over the testing method have also been highlighted in a string of cases for drug driving offences that have come before the ACT courts this year.
"We've worked very closely to make sure the message really cuts through to people in the community, they understand it very clearly that they really accurate and people are left with no uncertainty to the state of the law and risks of taking drugs and driving," Mr Rattenbury said.
He defended the territory's hardline approach as "the only way to go" and said it mirrored legislation in place across all Australian jurisdictions.
"The bottom line is these drugs are made illegally," he said.
"There's no consistency, there's no way of telling how much of any illegal drug is in a particular tablet, there's no standard chemical measure and there's no way of measuring the impact on an individual person.
"The safest approach, in terms of seeking to ensure that nobody dies on our roads as a result of impairment from taking drugs, is to take a zero-tolerance strategy."
Mr Rattenbury expected more regular and visible police drug tests and education campaigns would help drive down the rates and severity of road crashes over time.
"In the same way that the community attitudes to drinking and driving have changed with greater awareness and greater enforcement, I expect we'll see the same with drug driving."
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