Ross urges public not to drive on drugs as new tests introduced

Garda to begin using new devices to test for substances including cannabis and cocaine

A new anti-drug driving ad, informing road users of new testing available to Gardaí has been released. Video: RSA

The Minister for Transport Shane Ross has urged people not drive if they have taken illegal drugs as new testing measures come into effect from midnight.

The Garda are to begin using new devices that will allow them test drivers’ saliva for the presence of cannabis, cocaine, opiates (such as heroin), and benzodiazepines (such as valium). The devices will be available both in Garda stations and at roadside checkpoints.

People found with levels of the first three categories of drugs that are above prescribed limits, could face disqualification from driving for a minimum of one year.

People found driving with the presence of any of the four types of drugs in their system, such that their driving is impaired, could face disqualification from driving for a minimum of four years.


Speaking at a press conference held to advertise the new measures, which are contained in the Road Traffic Act 2016, the director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS), Prof Denis Cusack, advised people who smoke cannabis not to drive for 24 hours afterwards.

Cocaine and heroin disappear more quickly from the system than cannabis, he said, but he did not go into detail.

He said it was not possible to give guidance to people about staying below the legal limits of illegal drug consumption in the way might be done with alcohol.

Illegal drugs are not regulated and their strength is not constant in the way of alcoholic drinks.

The “skunk” currently on sale in Amsterdam is many times more powerful than the cannabis that was on sale in the 1970s and 1980s, he said. Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the State.

The new testing regime will be targeted at young male drivers and Assistant Garda Commissioner Michael Finn said this was because this age group had been found to be most prone to drug-driving.

However, there was also a difficulty with an older age group taking prescription drugs, such as drugs aimed at reducing anxiety, at levels in excess of those recommended. Sometimes the drugs were accessed on the black market, or from friends.

He advised people using prescription drugs to follow instructions. Overuse of legal drugs such that they impair a person’s driving is an offence.

Research by the MBRS found that 24 per cent of 3,020 specimens of blood and urine tested in 2016 proved positive for drugs other than alcohol. Of these, 91 per cent were from male drivers, most of whom were aged 17-44.

The new devices can take up to 10 minutes to process a saliva sample. There will be 80 devices available in Garda stations and 50 for roadside use. Over time the latter number is to increase to 150.

Greatest penalty

Mr Ross said that people who took illegal drugs should not drive. “You might not live to regret it. And if you live and others don’t, how will you live with that?”

Prof Cusack said drugs that “slow you down” and drugs that stimulate you both impair your ability to drive. Sometimes the greatest penalty for drink- or drug-drivers who have caused death is having to live with the knowledge of what they have done.

Both Prof Cusack and Mr Ross said they had confidence that the statistics on the use of the new devices could be relied upon. The devices themselves will collect data on their use.

Moyadh Murdoch, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, said studies had shown that a lot of people do not believe smoking a joint impairs their driving. "It absolutely does."

A publicity campaign against drug-driving is to target a younger age group, and will use online channels such as social media.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is Digital Features Editor and journalist with The Irish Times

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent