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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2291

Ms McHUGH —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. What information is available on the effects of drugs on driving ability, particularly when taken in association with alcohol? What action is the Government taking in respect of this very serious problem?

Mr PETER MORRIS —I thank the honourable member for Phillip for her question and I commend her for her continuing interest and efforts in support of the improvement of road safety.

Mr Goodluck —She is not on the committee.

Mr PETER MORRIS —You alcoholics are the ones I am directing this answer to. The dangers of drink driving are well known, certainly to the honourable member for Franklin.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister would, on reflection, realise that that is an unparliamentary imputation. I ask him to withdraw.

Mr PETER MORRIS —Certainly it was not intended in an unparliamentary fashion; it was an indication of his prowess. But I withdraw it, of course. As I was saying, the dangers of drink driving are well known and significant progress has been made in overcoming this problem, especially with the introduction of random breath testing. But relatively little is known about the impact of drugs on driving ability and little is known about the combined effect of drugs and alcohol on driving ability. A number of current surveys are being conducted by the Federal Office of Road Safety and these are beginning to reveal some alarming statistics on the levels of drug usage among motorists. I mention, for instance, that a recent survey of Melbourne motorists-not Tasmanian but Melbourne motorists-showed that 13.7 per cent of them admitted using alcohol, medications or both. I am referring to prescribed preparations and across the counter preparations. The incidence of drug taking is twice as high among drinking drivers as among non-drinkers. Eighty per cent of the drugs taken by those drinking drivers are known to impair driving skills. The preliminary results of another survey, the final results of which I hope to be able to release in a few weeks, show the presence of drugs in 30 per cent of the drivers and pedestrians who have been killed in road crashes.

A danger not recognised by most people is the unwitting mixture of alcohol with sedatives or tranquillisers. Such drugs as serepax or valium or sleeping tablets such as mogadon are often innocently mixed with alochol. It can often be the case that somebody has taken a valium or a serapax earlier in the day, forgotten and later partaken of alcohol. That combination is disastrous. We know from research that the mixture contributes to such things as an impaired sense of direction, an impaired sense of distance and an impaired ability to manoeuvre a motor vehicle. The problems raised by the honourable member for Phillip are indeed serious ones and, in accordance with the high priority that has been accorded to the issue of road safety by this Government, and in accordance with our determination to reduce the carnage on our roads, I have asked the Federal Office of Road Safety to step up its efforts in identifying the role of drugs in crashes and the development of counter-measures. In addition to that we have already commissioned a survey, or rather a preliminary study, into the effect of cannabis on driving.

I conclude by making an appeal to people who are in the practice of using tranquilliser drugs to take care and to remember that they should not drive if they have taken a combination of alcohol and either of those tranquillisers. I appeal to members of the medical profession and of the pharmaceutical profession that when they are prescribing or dispensing those drugs they mention to people the dangers of using them in association with driving.