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.

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Nemani Delaibatik­i Feed­back: nemani.delaibatik­[email protected]­jisun.com.fj

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.

NZ Case

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.

USA Case

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

Heal mag­a­zine.

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.

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