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Monday 22 January 2018

Motorists can now be tested for driving under the influence of drugs

Stock picture
Stock picture

Ian Begley

Motorists can now be tested for driving under the influence of drugs following new laws introduced today.

A new drug detecting device can identify the presence of cannabis, cocaine or heroine (benzodiazepines, and opiate) following a saliva test by roadside gardai.

Those who test positive for narcotics face a four year driving ban, a €5,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

Previously, gardai could not prosecute anyone they suspected of being under the influence of drugs while driving.

People who take prescribed drugs are also at risk of being tested positive and prosecuted under the new legislation.

However, Prof Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, emphasised that he does not want to discourage people from taking their prescribed medicine.

“It is against the law to drive under the influence of drugs, including prescribed drugs, where your driving is impaired to such an extent that you don’t have proper control of the vehicle,” he said at the launch of the preliminary drug testing scheme.

“Drivers with medical conditions should continue to take their prescribed medications in accordance with healthcare advice and medical fitness-to-drive guidelines.

“If you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines under the advice of your doctor or pharmacist, and so long as those medicines don’t impair your driving, you have nothing to be concerned about," he said.

The Medical Bureau for Road Safety (MBRS) found 24pc of the 3,020 blood specimens it received in 2016 were positive for drugs other than alcohol.

Cannabis was the most common drug found followed by benzodiazepines.

Of the tests that were positive for drugs, 91pc were male drivers, with the majority aged between 17 and 44-years-old.

The new garda powers means officers can test motorists for both alcohol and drugs at checkpoints on the State’s roads.

Transport Minister Shane Ross, who announced the new drug driving provisions in the Road Traffic Act 2016 said that the new law will save lives.

“It is estimated that drug driving is a factor in approximately one in ten fatal crashes. Drug driving not only puts the driver at risk but also passengers and others who share the road.”

“The introduction of preliminary drug testing now strengthens the ability of the gardaí to tackle the problem.”

Assistant commissioner Michael Finn said that while the drug test is simple for roadside gardai to conduct, with results revealed within 15 minutes. 

“There will be 86 drug screening devices located in Garda stations nationally and 50 more available for use at the roadside.” he said.

Moyagh Murdock, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, said people driving under the influence of drugs often overestimate their own ability to drive.

"Our own research shows that many drug users incorrectly believe that certain drugs make them better drivers and imagine themselves at low risk collision.

They also tend to overestimate their driving ability and show little understanding of how drugs affect their driving.

"Many have poor awareness of the impairing effects of drugs and make bad decisions about driving as a result."

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