1,500 test postive for drug driving
Almost 1,500 people tested positive for drug driving last year, it was disclosed today.
UCD professor Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, said gardai would be trained from early next year in how to spot drivers under the influence of drugs.
And he warned prescription medicines, and not just illegal drugs, could also cause a motorist to drive dangerously.
"If any one of us has a loved one killed by a driver who's impaired, quite frankly it doesn't really matter whether it is an 18-year-old out of his head on speed or a granny completely doped up on medications," he said.
"The end result is a death or an injury, and we have to be very cognisant of that."
At an international lecture on drug driving, hosted by the Road Safety Authority to mark Irish Road Safety Week, Prof Cusack said 5,355 blood and urine samples were passed to gardai last year, with 1,945 found to be under the legal alcohol limit.
But when the 1,945, plus another 35 samples, were examined further, 73pc proved positive for drugs.
Prof Cusack said 831 people were prosecuted for drug driving last year, compared with 106 in 2005.
He could not say why the number tested positive for drug driving was higher than those prosecuted in the courts.
He said research indicated around a quarter of those who took drugs and got behind the wheel were under 25, but it was also prevalent in the 45 to 54 age bracket.
He warned the legal response to drug driving was more complex than tackling drink driving, as there were hundreds of different types of drugs causing different reactions.
Prof Cusack said gardai would be given impairment training from early next year, learning to detect when drivers were under the influence of drugs. They would be taught how to look at a person's pupils, and to carry out balance and co-ordination tests.
He said there was no machine which could be used by gardai at the roadside to detect drug driving.
Canadian researcher Dr Doug Beirness, the author of a soon-to-be published report from the think-tank the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on drugs and driving, said one in three drivers' deaths in Canada between 2000 and 2007 were drugs related.
He warned detection must be used to save lives and not as a way for police to increase their drug-enforcement activities.
Noel Brett, RSA chief, said one in 20 motorists have driven while under the influence of drugs, according to a survey or 1,000 people aged between 17 and 34.
One in five said they were a passenger in a car driven by someone on drugs.
Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey said the number of people drinking and driving was falling.
So far this year one in every 400 drivers are testing positive for drink, compared with one in every 50 in 2008.