8 October 2019

Drug driving a major problem on our roads

Figures from the Road Safety Authority’s (RSA) Annual Academic Lecture, show that 68 per cent of drivers with a positive roadside drug test between April 2017 and July 2019, tested positive for cannabis, writes Trish Whelan. 

Cocaine follows closely behind as the main illicit drug detected after cannabis with 37 per cent of samples tested being positive for this substance. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety findings also show that cannabis is now not far behind alcohol in blood and urine samples it examined.

This annual lecture marks the start of ‘Irish Road Safety Week’, and focused on drug driving. It featured insights on the subject from international and national experts.

Minister Shane Ross TD
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Spot, Mr Shane Ross TD said: “Driving under the influence of drugs has been a statutory offence since 1961 but it wasn’t until 2017, with the introduction of Preliminary Drug Testing, that we had a drug testing device capable of testing for the presence of drugs in drivers at the roadside and in the Garda station.” He said it is clear that its introduction has resulted in an increase in drug driving detections, but the results show that a continued enforcement and education effort is needed to tackle this killer behaviour.

Moyagh Murdock, Chief Executive of the RSA, said: “The analysis of blood and urine samples sent to the MBRS by the Gardai, and the analysis of toxicology reports of driver and motorcyclist fatalities, are starting to give a clearer understanding of the prevalence of drug driving in Ireland. And it’s concerning because they confirm that drug driving is a major problem on our roads.” 

Moyagh Murdock, RSA
She said the RSA ‘will continue to educate drivers on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and will work closely with the Gardai to support their enforcement activity.” They will also, she added, do more to examine the factors around drug driving and examine international best practice to find interventions that can be applied here to tackle drug driving.

Professor Denis A Cusack, Director, Medical Bureau of Road Safety said younger men are the largest age group represented in positive samples. He said since the start of road side screening devices for drugs, the Gardai have been successful in detecting drivers under the influence of drugs in increasing numbers. However, he believed there is also a need to increase drug testing of drivers in Garda stations. 

For driver fatalities with a positive toxicology for at least one of the drug categories examined in the study, (90) 86 per cent were male, and just over half were aged 25-44 years.