Drug driving: What you need to know before getting behind the wheel

By Valerie McHugh

As the countdown to St. Patrick’s Day gets underway, many are planning how they are going to spend the bank holiday weekend. With one in four motorists admitting to driving over the limit after a night out, the issue of drug driving is likely to become incredibly prevalent over this celebratory period.

If you are considering taking illegal substances this week, or at any stage in the future, this essential guide covers some of the things you should consider before you drive under the influence of drugs.

More drug types can now be detected due to new tool

The new roadside drug testing device (Drug Wipe 6S) was implemented before Christmas, and has increased the number of substances that can be tested for. The portable tool works like an antigen test and tests for cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines (sedatives like Valium) and opiates, amphetamine and methamphetamine. The latter two substances were not detectable on the device’s predecessor.

Brian Farrell, the Head of Communications at the Road Safety Authority, says that the new drug testing method implemented means drug detection results can be generated faster.

He says: “I am anticipating that there will probably be a spike and increase in drug driving detections but we must wait a little bit of time for official confirmation. There has always been a big problem with drug driving but we have never really been able to get a sense of how big it is. Now with the Gardaí having this additional tool, I think we are likely going to see an increase in drug detections.”

Over the counter or prescribed medications can impair your driving

Taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines under the advice of your GP or pharmacist is not an offence. However, if these medicines impair your driving, you can be convicted of drug driving.

Medications like anti-depressants, sedatives and painkillers can have side affects that may impact your driving ability.

Mr Farrell says that if people are concerned about medications affecting their capability to drive, they should consult with a medical professional.

He says: “People should always consult with your doctor and your pharmacist about the drugs you’re being prescribed, and you should tell the doctor if you need to drive for a living. If you’re suffering from any side effects, you should alert them straight away so they can prescribe you something else that doesn’t cause impairment.”

You could be disqualified from driving, get fined up to €5000 or go to prison

All drug driving offences carry a period of disqualification. Disqualification periods vary.

  • For those convicted of being above the threshold for cannabis and cocaine (with no proof of impairment necessary by the Gardaí) the disqualification period is not less than 1 year for the first offence and not less than 2 years for the second or subsequent offence.
  • For those convicted of drug driving while impaired, the penalty or disqualification period is a minimum of 4 years for a first offence and 6 years for a second or subsequent offence.
  • Following this, the maximum penalty for all drug driving offences is a €5,000 fine and up to 6 months in prison on summary conviction.

Mr Farrell says that the RSA’s campaign against drug driving is focuses on the phrase “there is no hiding drug-driving.”

He says: “It is just not worth the risk. The Gardaí are out there, and it is a serious offence [to drive while under the influence of drugs] with serious consequences.”

A drug driving conviction could stop you from going on a J1

USIT is the leading travel company for students in Ireland who operate the J1 programme, and under its’ guidelines, if you have committed, been arrested and/or convicted for drug driving, you will not be eligible to apply for the visa.

A J1 visa allows you to travel and work in the United States for up to four months if you are a full-time third level student.

Lisa Collender, Chief Marketing Officer at USIT, says that the programme is often referred to as a “milestone” in people’s lives and is an opportunity for people to “kickstart their careers”.

She says: “Our mission for the J1 is to help students in 3rd level colleges to spend a summer working and travelling in the USA. This is why we want students to seriously consider how these dreams can be taken away with a drink or drug driving offence. Ask yourself: is the risk worth sacrificing a summer of a lifetime working abroad?”

Drug driving can kill

Driving a vehicle is a complicated and intricate skill, and drugs can impair how we function. This can lead to drivers becoming a danger to themselves or to others, resulting in serious injury or death.

RSA research from 2013-2017 shows that 29 per cent of drivers killed had a positive toxicology for drugs.

Speaking on the Mr Farrell says that many people do not see themselves as a person who could cause an injury or fatality.

He says: “Especially in the younger age groups, people often do not see consequences like this as something that could happen to them. This is particularly true among men. For some, social death hits home harder than an actual fatality.”

For more information on drug driving, visit rsa.ie



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