POLICE are vowing to crack down on the Hunter’s drug-affected drivers after identifying the region as a major hotspot for motorists being impaired by illicit substances.

Figures show 14 deaths over three years have occurred in accidents across the Hunter where at least one driver was drug-affected, with police charging 161 people last year with driving under the influence of drugs.

The Hunter has the third highest rate of drug-driving in NSW and has been identified as such a hotspot the state’s top traffic cop will unveil a statewide operation in Newcastle on Friday. Operation Impairment kicks off at Newcastle Show this week and will continue through 21 regional shows and other major sporting events as senior police up the ante in educating the driving public about driving with drugs in their system.

Traffic and highway patrol commander Superintendent Stuart Smith said there was a misconception the drug-driving issue was something that happened in the metropolitan areas.

Figures show 78per cent of road fatalities where at least one driver was impaired by illicit substances occurred on a regional or rural road.

‘‘That is the misconception and that is where we need to be proactive in identifying hotspots and then impacting on those hotspots,’’ Superintendent Smith said.

‘‘It is about stopping high-risk driving behaviour. These people are a high-risk on our roads and they need to know they are at a high-risk of being caught.’’

Operations before Christmas, saw as many as one in every four Hunter motorists tested, being found to have illicit substances in their system.

Drug-testing is a lot more targeted than random alcohol testing, and the state ratio was about one positive every 26 tests last year.

In 2013, the ratio was one in every 47 tests.

‘‘We can keep on writing out tickets all day but it is about engaging with the community and having the road safety talk,’’ Superintendent Smith said.

‘‘This is about broader education.’’