Drug Driving

The Gardai are now permitted by law to set up Mandatory Intoxicant checkpoints. These checkpoints not only test for the presence of alcohol but also require the driver to provide a specimen of your saliva to test for the presence of drugs. On occasion some motorists have become highly indignant at what they regard as an impertinent suggestion that they may have consumed drugs of any description but the important point to remember is that in most cases these are routine stops i.e. there is no suggestion that the motorist has consumed drugs.

The oral fluid test (Preliminary Drug Test) using the Dräger machine takes about 1 minute to collect the required amount of oral fluids from the inside of your mouth on a swab which is then placed in a cartridge in the machine which takes about 4/5 minutes to provide the result. You will be asked to move a swab attached to a test cassette back and forth between your cheek and gum until an integrated indicator signals the end of the sampling. You must then return the incapsulated cassette to the Garda who slides the cassette into the Dräger giving a display after a few minutes. It can detect up to 8 substances: cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, methadone, ketamine.

In the same way as the preliminary breath test can detect the presence of alcohol in your breath, but not the level of the alcohol present, the preliminary oral fluid test can detect the presence of the 8 drugs in your saliva (oral fluid) but not the level of the drug/drugs involved. The latter requires a subsequent blood test carried out by a designated Doctor or Nurse in a Garda Station, or in some circumstances, a hospital.

Some Drugs Last Longer than Others.

The offence of Drug Driving is committed simply by having a level equal to or above the specific nanograms per unit of blood as set out in the legislation. Some drugs however are “long lasting” i.e. they can remain in your system for days and even weeks after having been consumed, and certainly very unlikely to be still acting on your system. For instance, cannabis can remain in your blood for up to 14 days, cocaine for upwards of 4 days, methamphetamines 2-3 days and benzodiazepines for 2-3 days.  

In many cases this can be perceived as being unfair by the motorist, as it means that even having consumed a drug 2-3 days earlier, if it is detected at a checkpoint it’s presence may ultimately lead to a disqualification from driving, despite there being no evidence of impaired driving.

In effect, the drugs that are tested have such low thresholds that they just about eliminate the possibility of their presence in your system due to passive inhalation i.e. somebody consuming the drug next to you.

The penalty for Drug Driving is the same as for Drink Driving-a maximum fine of €5000 and up to 6 months imprisonment.

As far as Disqualification periods are concerned for non-impairment cases, the disqualification periods are not less than 1 year for the first offence and not less than 2 years for the second or subsequent offence.

For pre-existing offences of drug driving, while impaired, there is no change to the penalty or disqualification periods, which are a minimum of 4 years for a first offence and 6 years for a second or subsequent offence.