Drivers on prescription drugs 'could fail test'
Motorists who are on prescription drugs will be subjected to impairment tests if they fail new roadside drug tests.
It has emerged that drivers who take common drugs like codeine could run foul of mandatory saliva tests when they are introduced next summer.
The director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS), Professor Denis Cusack, told the Irish Independent that people on medication "should be careful because even prescription drugs can affect your driving, particularly if they are new drugs to you".
He warned that motorists need to stick to the advice supplied by their doctor or pharmacist.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said there will be zero tolerance to illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine or heroin.
While the new laws set minimum limits for the amount of drugs that can be found in a person's system, a spokesperson said these are set at a level that makes it possible for gardaí to establish the presence of drugs.
The MBRS has already signed a contract for 150 test devices with an expectation that they will double that number once the laws are fully introduced.
"We are saying that the presence of those drugs in the bloods of anybody who is tested by gardaí, the presence of those drugs itself will be a road traffic offence," Mr Donohoe said.
"In relation to how long such a drug would remain in the blood of a person, the answer to that is going to vary by person. The key thing we will be looking at is the presence itself."
The penalty for the new offence on summary conviction is up to €5,000 fine or up to six months' imprisonment or both.
The offence also carries not less than one year disqualification from driving for a first offence and not less than two years for a second or subsequent offence.
Prof Cusack said that the process will be similar to the current breathalyser one used for drink-driving tests.
Asked how long cannabis is likely to stay in a person's system, he said it would have to be "recent use".
"There's been a lot of confusion with people talking about 'it could be days or a week later'. That could certainly be the case if it's urine - but if we are talking about a sample of blood that would indicate within the day or possibly a few hours," he said.