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Roadside Drug Testing (RDT) Laws in Australia

作者: 白茉雅  Mojca Babovic (台灣毒品處遇政策研究學會 國際政策組長)


  1. Current Australian drug driving legislation

Due to severity of drug driving, many legal and enforcement changes have been made internationally, with Australia being at the forefront through enactment of roadside drug testing (RDT) laws. These laws were first introduced in Victoria in 2004 and most recently in Northern Territory in 2016.

Roadside drug testing (RDT) laws demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach towards drug driving. They prohibit the presence, to any degree, of certain drugs (other than alcohol) in a driver’s body, whether it be in oral fluid (OF), blood, or urine. The term for this type of offence is “presence offence”, with a full description provided in each jurisdiction’s legal act (see table below). In other words, Australia has introduced additional type of drug driving offences alongside the existing impairment (DUI/DWI) offences, which test for driver’s physical/ cognitive ability to drive.[i],[ii]   

​  2.Enforcement of RDT laws: A case study on Victoria

Generally speaking, RDT laws are enforced by Australian police officers using OF fluid testing technology to detect the presence of the three most commonly used illicit drugs - the THC, MDMA, and methamphetamine. It is noteworthy that in NSW (2018)[iii] and Qld (2023)[iv] they also test for cocaine. If drivers test positive on the road, they will be temporary forbidden to drive or/and fined. If charged with a “presence offence”, they may face stricter punishment, ranging from license suspension and to even 3-6month imprisonment in some jurisdictions (see table below).

Specifically in Victoria, which was the first in the world to start with a 12-month trial of RDT program in 2004, RDT involves a two-step process. First, a trained police officer conducts a preliminary oral fluid test (POFT) that checks for presence of THC, MDMA and methamphetamine. If the screen is positive, police officer then continues with oral fluid test (OFT) to confirm the preliminary result. Following a positive OFT, an OF sample is then to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a government laboratory, for confirmation. Based on this confirmation, a decision is made to charge (positive presence result) or discontinue action (negative presence result). Importantly, Victoria police officers now have the authority to issue a banning notice on the spot, preventing alleged offenders from driving for 12 or 24 hours.[v]

  3.Deterrence from drug-impaired driving 

The notion of deterrence underlines many of roadside safety interventions and countermeasures. Initially rooted in criminal justice policy, the deterrence model suggests, in its simplest form, that drivers are less likely to engage in unlawful driving behavior if they fear the consequences of the act. Moreover, their offending behavior diminishes if the certainty, severity, and swiftness of punishment increases. 

RDT laws represent a valuable addition to impairment-based laws precisely because they are based on deterrence concept. On the one hand, Australian drivers, fearing swift and severe sanctions (if detected with presence of a drug or when refusing to be tested on the roads), are more likely to adhere to road safety rules. On the other hand, Australian police have an additional toll to exhort coercive power, enabling them to monitor drivers on the roads as well as deter them from future offences.

A key factor contributing to the success of RDT laws and their deterrence effect is the police’s ability to stop a driver anywhere or anytime for random drug testing, without the need to observe signs of impairment or inappropriate driving behavior. This this type of “random stopping legislation”[vi] is specific for Australia. Although it has substantially contributed to road safety in the country, translating the testing practice to other countries proves challenging due to differences in legal policy. 

Table:  Presence Offences in Australia (oral fluid, blood or urine)









F= Fines, LS= License Suspension (Cancellation), BCP= Behavior Change Program, IM= Imprisonment, DP= Demerit Point 



Road Safety Legal Acts in Australia

NSW Road Transport Act (2013):

Qld Transport Operations Road Use Management Act (1995):

Victoria The Road Safety Act (1986):

SA Road Traffic Act (1961):

WA Road Traffic Act (1974):

Tas The Road Safety (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1970:

NT Traffic Act (1978):

ACT Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) ACT 1977:

[i]: Quilter, Julia, and Luke McNamara. 2017. “Zero Tolerance Drug Driving Laws in Australia: A Gap between Rationale and Form?” International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 6 (3): 47–71.

[ii]: Moxham-Hall, Vivienne, and Caitlin Hughes. 2020. “Drug Driving Laws in Australia: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?” Drug Policy Modelling Program, UNSW Social Policy Research Centre 29: 1–16.



[v]:Victorian Auditor-General’s Report (VAGO). 2023. Reducing the Harm Caused by Drugs on Victorian Roads Independent assurance report to Parliament 2023–24: 11:1 43.

[vi]:National Drug Driving Working Group (NDDWG).2018. Australia's Second Generational Approach to Roadside Drug Testing.1-35.

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