KAVA-DOPED DRIVERS SHOULD BE TREATED SAME WAY AS THOSE CAUGHT DRIVING UNDER INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL
AUTHORITIES SHOULD ALSO DO SPOT CHECKS PARTICULARLY ON PASSENGER VEHICLE DRIVERS They will depend on the travelling public to dob in drivers driving erratically and dangerously on our roads.
Last Sunday, a minibus left Lautoka for Suva at 7pm with 14 passengers who were unaware that their driver was kava-doped. He showed no signs that he was in that state until they were travelling between Nadi and Sigatoka.
Just past the notorious Nabou accident site, where eight people died in a traffic tragedy last year, the driver became erratic and started to drive all over the road.
Sometimes he had to stop, collected himself, before he continued crossing lanes.
A female passenger was so horrified that she called the Police emergency number and filed a complaint.
To their credit, the Police kept in touch with her to get an update of the situation.
The sight of white crosses and flowers at Nabou were still vivid in her mind.
It reminded her that they were in accident zone and there was a tragedy in waiting unless their driver stopped driving.
For the rest of the journey to Sigatoka, despite protests from her and other passengers, the driver kept driving. The passengers kept him awake by making noises.
There was a big sigh of relief when they arrived at Sigatoka. The Police, who were waiting, stopped the driver and questioned him.
He told them that he had been drinking kava before driving. The Police, ordered he could not drive and told him to call a replacement driver. We hope that was not the end of the matter because he had put 15 lives at risk including himself.
He needs to receive some kind of a penalty for reckless and dangerous driving.
His case could just be the tip of the iceberg. If we need to change the law to include kava with alcohol then let’s do it for the sake of the safety of our people.
The breathalyser machine only detects
alcohol not kava. So how can the law enforcement officers catch kavadoped drivers. They need passengers to call them and dob in alleged offenders as it happened last Sunday. The other option is to conduct spot checks and get the drivers to walk the white line. The best deterrent is to charge would-be offenders and haul them to court.
There are precedents that we can follow.
In 2007, a Palmerston North man became the first motorist in New Zealand to be convicted of driving under the influence of kava.
New Zealand media then reported that Aho Ioane, 53, a forklift operator, pleaded guilty at the Palmerston North District Court to one count of driving under the influence of a drug. The court was told Ioane, a Tongan, produced a negative breathalyser result when Police tested him for alcohol after he was seen weaving across the road in his car on the way home from church.
His speech was slurred, he had bloodshot eyes and he was unsteady on his feet.
He told Police he had been drinking “Tongan kava” before church.
The court heard the drink was made from the root of the kava plant and was used in ceremonies across the Pacific. It was favoured for its ability to induce dreams or visions and causes a feeling of tranquility.
Ioane was diagnosed by a doctor as being under the influence of a drug to the point where he was incapable of driving.
He was sentenced to 50 hours of community work and had his licence suspended for six months.
In 1996, in the USA, Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported that Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Paul Hiatt recalled thinking he was arresting a “good, typical drunk” who’d been stopped for swerving in and out of traffic lanes.
The 44-year-old motorist staggered, his speech slurred and he reacted slowly to Hiatt’s commands.
But when the man was given a breath-test, his alcohol level registered zero, and there were no signs of illegal drug abuse.
When questioned, the man told law officers he hadn’t had a drop of booze. Instead, he’d spent the evening drinking kava.
“In fact, he’d had 16 cups of kava,” said Hiatt. “Usually, people only drink one or two cups.”
Blood was later drawn and laboratory tests confirmed the kava had impaired the man’s ability to operate a vehicle. He was found guilty of driving under the influence of kavathe first conviction of its kind in the country, said Hiatt.
The case prompted Hiatt and other law officers to issue a warning: Drive impaired and you’ll find yourself in trouble - even if you’ve been using legal substances.
“Kava is like an over-the-counter drug; it’s perfectly legal, anyone can buy it and it’s not a problem if you drink it,” said a highway patrol officer. “Yet kava can be a problem if you decide to drink it and drive.”
The drink is reputedly a sedative, aphrodisiac, stimulant, diuretic and diaphoretic, according to Herbs That
Its effects are known to impair - like many other noncontrolled, easily found substances.
“If we find (motorists) are impaired from using these natural products we can make an arrest just like if they were impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs,” said Hiatt.
Law officers emphasise they were not kava opponents, they simply wanted people to drive responsibly.
Tests showing that kava drinkers could be safer drivers than drunks need to be taken with a grain of salt. Fijian Apo Aporoso, a kava researcher, at the University of Waikato in New Zealand says a study testing driver reactions after a six-hour session of high-volume kava drinking found no significant effect on driving ability. But he believes more testing using different techniques may show there is a degree of impairment, and Pacific people should be cautious about getting behind the wheel of a car after a heavy kava drinking session.
In Fiji there are no statistics showing kava-related accidents.
Because it is a popular national drink there is a realistic chance of kava being linked to some previous accidents.