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Drugs rival booze as road peril

ONE driver in 46 has been caught driving under the influence of cannabis or methamphetamines, or both, in the past 18 months.

The figure is not far off that for drink-driving: one driver in 54 is over the legal .05 blood alcohol limit.

Victoria Police figures show the worst offenders were car drivers, followed by truck drivers.

Of 12,538 car drivers tested, 310 -- one in 40 -- tested positive. Of the 5479 truck drivers, 83 -- one in 66 -- were positive.

Four repeat drug-driving offenders were detected between December 13, 2004, and May 12 this year.

Assistant Commissioner Noel Ashby (traffic) said yesterday the figures were not surprising. And they could rise soon as police became able to test for ecstasy.

The State Government has alloted $14.1 million to upgrade seven police booze buses so they can also test for drugs. And police are to get another drug-testing bus.

"The figures clearly show there is an issue of drugs and driving within the community. There is no question about that now," Mr Ashby said.

"We knew that a significant percentage of drivers killed over recent years have had both methamphetamine and cannabis, and other drugs, in their system. "The figures perhaps validate what we were thinking. A lot of it has to do with the areas we target. Nightclub strips, rave parties and trucking routes are high-risk locations for the use of drugs.

"We'll continue to target them while looking at other strategies."

The drug-drive figures showed that of the 393 drivers who tested positive, 267 were under the influence of methamphetamines, 31 were affected by cannabis and 95 tested positive to both.

Mr Ashby said cannabis, like alcohol, inhibited driving skills. Narcotics such as methamphetamines enhanced drivers' sense of invulnerability and led to chronic tiredness.