Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sending the wrong message

I've blogged about this before in, but NCPIC's new four-year funding and their continuing record of very questionable research projects prompts me to reproduce the text of a letter of mine published in The Age.

State governments are leaping onto the bandwagon to drug-test drivers and penalise them at least as heavily as drink-drivers, eagerly supported by National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC).

Here is my letter:

Sending the wrong message
BETH Wilson muddies the waters when she writes: ''These substances are highly likely to cause accidents and deaths. The likelihood of impairment because of drugs may be three times that of alcohol.''

A recent evidence review into cannabis and driving by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre concluded in part: ''There are numerous methodological limitations in the studies reviewed that may account for the great variations and inconsistencies in their findings, which detracts from the likelihood of a clear synthesis of results.''

Population studies consistently show a much smaller rate of cannabis-related accidents than for alcohol. Nevertheless, the centre and, it seems, state governments are forging ahead as if the risk for cannabis is the same as for alcohol. This risks both the misallocation of resources and miscarriage of justice if the penalties and enforcement are made equivalent.

Pleas of ''sending the right message'' are hollow when the message is inaccurate.

MICHAEL GORMLY, Woolloomooloo

My phrase 'misallocation of resources' means this: The more time police spend on the drug aspect of driving, the less time they have to fight drink-driving which is a significantly greater threat to you and me. So NCPIC's inaccurate slogan "Smoke and drive and you're as good as drunk" may actually promote greater harm.

The letter following mine in The Age casts more doubt on the drug driving panic:

Test for driving skills not drugs
IT IS annoying to see such broad statements from a health professional as: ''These substances are highly likely to cause accidents and deaths.'' What substances is she talking about? Are all illegal drugs bad for driving and all legal drugs OK? It is such a simplistic approach to ban all illegal drugs, but amphetamines can cause people to be more alert; they can be performance enhancing.

Studies of marijuana show drivers are more cautious after smoking and take fewer risks. What is needed is some fresh thinking away from the paranoia towards drugs. Forget about the drugs and test drivers for co-ordination and driving skill.


Having said all that, I am not recommending that people should drive under the influence of drugs, especially people who are inexperienced at either activity. I remember in the days when Mandrax was legal one acquaintance who frequently drove while under the influence and regularly pranged her car, a beautiful vintage Valiant. However she always travelled so slowly that no serious damage was done and no-one injured!

Alcohol is probably the most dangerous drug as it releases inhibitions so people take more risks on the road, and the law should therefore be tougher on drink driving than drug driving.

But that would 'send the wrong message', no?

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