Three drivers including a non-Bhutanese tested positive for controlled substances when some 21-passenger bus drivers were tested for drugs in Phuentsholing yesterday. Two tested positive for tramadol and one for marijuana.

Road Safety and Transport Authority’s (RSTA) programme officer, Sonam Dhendup, said a total of 94 passenger bus drivers have been tested for drugs and alcohol in Phuentsholing since September 4 until yesterday.

The authority has suspended the drivers and instructed the bus operators to replace the three.

The non-Bhutanese driver, 48, drives between Phuentsholing and Siliguri, India while the 32-and 37-year-old drive busses between Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar.

Sonam Dendup said that the RSTA started drug testing for drivers for the safety of passengers and other road users as required in the Road Safety and Transport Act 1999. “The test that started with passenger bus drivers will gradually cover all drivers in the country.”

The mandatory and random testing will be carried out as part of pre-departure and post-arrival inspections for passenger bus drivers, he added. “Random testing will be carried out anywhere, anytime on any drivers.”

Sonam Dendup said that the drivers will be referred to the Bhutan Narcotics and Control Authority (BNCA) where they will be assessed by the Treatment Assessment Panel on the severity of their substance use and provide appropriate intervention.

“The drivers will be suspended for a minimum of six months until they detox or come clean since it is the first time. Repeated offenders will lose their license and be terminated,” he said.

Sonam Dendup said that the two Bhutanese drivers were supposed to drive from Phuentsholing to Samdrupjongkhar on September 10 but they couldn’t because of the Assam strike.

None of the 73 public transport bus drivers tested positive for drugs in Thimphu on September 4 when they were tested by RSTA in collaboration with the BNCA.

“Along with drug testing, alcohol testing is also conducted across the country,” Sonam Dendup said.

Dechen Tshomo