Alarm as number of drivers using drugs continues to soar
THE number of motorists driving under the influence of drugs continues to rise despite a Government commitment to clamp down on the offence.
New figures from the Central Statistic Office (CSO) show the number of drug-drivers detected during the first nine months of last year rose to 600.
This was up from 490 for the same period in 2008, a rise of over 22pc.
Figures also show that over the last five years, the number of drivers who get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs has risen by as much as 70pc.
Unlike a breathalyser used on the roadside to test for the presence of alcohol, gardai do not have a specific device to test for drugs.
Neither is there legislation to allow gardai to randomly test a driver who they believe is under the influence of drugs.
Under current laws, drug drivers are detected almost by default by providing a urine or blood sample on suspicion of drink-driving.
When no alcohol is found in the analysis, further tests are carried out to search for traces of drugs.
The Road Traffic Bill -- due to be brought before the Oireachtas next month -- will debate the issue of drug-driving.
But it does not accede to calls from opposition parties for random roadside drug testing similar to laws used to detect suspected drink-driving.
Gardai and the Road Safety Authority believe that the real number of drug-drivers is far higher than the latest figures show. However, without a drug testing device, the numbers are far short of the true picture.
A CSO survey carried out last year showed an 81pc increase in drug driving on the previous year. The number of specimens tested for the presence of drugs by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety increased from 569 in 2004 to 1,900 in 2008.
And a 2008 investigation by the insurance company Hibernian found that more than 20pc of drivers under the age of 35 had driven while under the influence of drugs.
The Labour Party repeated its call last night for the introduction of stricter drug-driving tests.
Transport spokesman Tommy Broughan said the new Road Traffic Bill includes measures for the introduction of preliminary impairment testing for drug-driving, but said it "does not go far enough".