Roadside saliva drug testing origins

Roadside saliva drug testing may be commonplace now, but it’s only been used in Australia since around 2004.

Did you ever wonder how roadside saliva drug testing came about?

The risks of drinking alcohol and driving have been known for a long time. We’ve known that mixing alcohol and driving can be deadly, due to the reduction in coordination and concentration that alcohol can have on your system, and the reduction in judgement and slowed reaction times.

It’s also fair to say that we’ve also known about the dangers of drugs and driving for some time. Accident stats and fatalities has gradually shown the impact drugs have on road statistics and, in fact, drugs have now overtaken alcohol as a leading cause of fatalities in many states and territories in Australia, as well as in many other countries.

According to Swinburne University, they played a part in demonstrating the dangers of drugs on driver performance. Working in conjunction with Victoria Police and VicRoads, Swinburne researchers were able to verify that drivers using cannabis and methamphetamine (speed) had an increased crash risk.

As part of this research, “Volunteers were given prescribed doses of cannabis, methamphetamines and other substances, and then their driving performance, cognition and mood was measured under simulated conditions. These drugs were shown to affect a person’s ability to drive safely by disrupting normal cognitive behaviour and psychomotor functioning.”

Knowing that drugs can affect driving performance is one thing; being able to test drivers on a large scale is another. Early large scale drug testing mainly required urine samples for detecting drugs, which obviously wasn’t an option for roadside drug testing.

Saliva drug testing to the fore

Enter oral or saliva drug testing methods. In other words, using samples of drivers’ saliva to test for the presence of drugs.

Again, Swinburne helped to provide assurance that saliva drug testing could be relied upon by collaborating with the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine to evaluate the reliability of the method. According to Swinburne, “The research provided evidence that saliva tests could sensitively and reliably detect selected drugs in drivers, and that the saliva testing equipment was suitable for roadside field use.”

On the basis of this research and evidence, the Victorian Government amended the Road Safety (Drug Driving) Act 2003 and the Road Safety Act 1986 and later passed the Road Safety (Drugs) Act 2006, enabling Victoria Police to perform roadside saliva drug testing on drivers. Other states soon followed the lead and, today, all states and territories in Australia have similar legislation and also carry out roadside drug testing using saliva drug testing methodology.

Roadside saliva drug testing has helped to reduce the road toll

An article on Swinburne University’s website quotes Inspector Martin Boorman from Victoria Police, who said, “Since 2004, road deaths in Victoria have decreased by 25%, representing thousands of lives. This can’t be directly attributed to the roadside saliva tests, but it is encouraging to see that the biggest drop has been in drivers under the age of 25 years, which is the group most likely to use drugs.”

NOTE: While these figures certainly represent good news, the bad news is that 2019 is shaping up as a poor year on Victorian roads for fatalities, with the road toll currently around 57 per cent on the same time last year.


Roadside saliva drug testing may be commonplace now, but it’s only been used in Australia since around 2004. Credit Traffic Accident Commission.

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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