What does drug driving law mean for those on medication?

Devices will test for benzodiazepines, drivers face checks to ensure they follow prescription

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe who introduced the Road Traffic Bill 2015 which will provide for roadside drug testing.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe who introduced the Road Traffic Bill 2015 which will provide for roadside drug testing.

 

The potential consequences of driving under the influence of illicit drugs have been well flagged in the coverage of proposed new legislation, but what effect will the Road Traffic Bill 2015 have on prescription drug users?

If enacted, the bill will introduce new roadside testing machines which will be capable of detecting the presence of four drugs in a specimen of saliva provided by a driver- cannabis, cocaine, heroin and a class of legal, prescription sedatives known as benzodiazepines.

In its Medical Fitness to Drive Guidelines published in March, the Road Safety Authority said benzodiazepines are the most likely psychotropic medicine to impair driving performance, and that shorter-acting sedatives are more conducive to safe driving.

Currently, gardaí have the power to stop, conduct a manual roadside impairment test on and possibly request a blood sample from any motorist who they believe may have their driving skills impaired through drug use, either prescription or non-prescription.

While this approach will continue to determine the presence of other medications, the machines’ ability to pick up on the presence of benzodiazepines means gardaí will have a stronger roadside indication of the presence of this substance.

Unlike the other three illicit drugs legislated for, there is no set limit for benzodiazepine usage in the new law as this can vary depending on prescriptions.

A person taking benzodiazepine can face charges if they are found to be intoxicated. This can occur if someone is using the medication outside of the prescription instructions.

Someone found with benzodiazepines in their system and can still be taken in for a blood test to determine the level of the drug in their system.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said the intention of the Bill was not to “catch out” those using benzodiazepines in line with their prescription, but rather to identify those who are misusing the drugs and may pose a risk to other road users.

Latest figures show nearly one million prescriptions were written for benzodiazepines in Ireland in 2013.

Alcohol exacerbates the negative side-effects of sedative medications, as can other impairing substances.