Drug driving a major problem on Ireland’s roads


Cannabis found in 2 out of 3 drivers with a positive roadside drug test

RSA Annual Academic Lecture kicks off Irish Road Safety Week

Figures unveiled today at the Road Safety Authority’s (RSA) Annual Academic Lecture, show that drug driving is a major problem on Ireland’s roads. They show that 68% of drivers with a positive roadside drug test, between April 2017 and July 2019, had a positive test for cannabis. Cocaine follows closely behind as the main illicit drug detected after cannabis, with 37% of samples tested being positive for cocaine. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) findings also demonstrate that cannabis is now not far behind alcohol in blood and urine samples it examined.

The RSA’s Annual Academic Road Safety Lecture, which marks the start of ‘Irish Road Safety Week’, focused on drug driving and featured insights on the subject from international and national experts.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr. Shane Ross 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. It’s clear that its introduction has resulted in an increase in drug driving detections, but the results presented today show that a continued enforcement and education effort is required 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 Gardaí and presented today, and the analysis of toxicology reports of driver and motorcyclist fatalities, are starting to give us 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. We will continue to educate drivers on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and work closely with the Gardai to support their enforcement activity. But we will 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. Today is an important step in this direction.”

Professor Denis A. Cusack, Director, Medical Bureau of Road Safety said: “Drugs Driving is now a major problem in Ireland. While alcohol remains the most frequently detected drug in blood and urine specimens submitted to us by the Gardaí, our figures show that cannabis is the next most frequently found drug. 68% of drivers with a positive roadside test, between April 2017 and July 2019, had a positive result for cannabis, followed by cocaine at 37%. Younger men are the largest age group represented in positive samples. Since the introduction of road side screening devices for drugs in April 2017 the Gardaí have been successful in detecting drivers under the influence of drugs in increasing numbers. However there is a need to increase drug testing of drivers in Garda stations.”

He added that “Of the 2,144 samples under 80mgs of alcohol BAC in 2018 analysed in the MBRS, 3 out of 4 were positive for drugs and of these 3 out of 4 in turn were positive for cannabis.”

“Prescribable and over the counter drugs are also a real problem and mirror taking of drugs and medications in Ireland. However, this must be seen in context – the presence alone of these drugs in your system is not necessarily a problem, it is when it causes impairment in driving. Drivers with medical conditions should continue to take their prescribed medications in accordance with healthcare advice and medical fitness-to-drive guidelines. If you experience impairment speak to your GP or pharmacist,” said Professor Cusack.

Assistant Commissioner, David Sheahan, Roads Policing, An Garda Síochána, said “Since 2017, Gardaí have been given powers to conduct Preliminary Drug Testing at the roadside or in Garda stations. This has allowed the Gardaí to establish road side checkpoints for testing drivers for drugs. with similar powers to mandatory alcohol testing. As a result detections for drug driving have risen significantly. Drivers need to realise that the days of avoiding detection for drug driving are over and that we are determined to stamp out this killer behaviour.”

The RSA Academic Lecture also unveiled preliminary results from a collaboration between the RSA, Health Research Board (HRB) and MBRS, looking at the presence of drugs amongst road user fatalities. Analyses of the toxicology results of 310 driver and motorcyclists killed during 2013-2016 demonstrated that:

· 11% had a positive toxicology for at least one benzodiazepine
· 8% had a positive toxicology for cocaine
· 7% had a positive toxicology for cannabis

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

This year’s Academic Lecture heard from international and national experts on drug driving. This included Professor Denis A. Cusack, Director, Medical Bureau of Road Safety who discussed drug impaired driving in Ireland; Dr Vigdis Vindenes, Head of Research, Dep. of Forensic Sciences, Oslo University Hospital who presented on impairment based legislative limits which have been imposed in Norway; and Assistant Commissioner, David Sheahan of An Garda Síochána, who discussed enforcement of drug driving in Ireland.