Drug drivers - the risks are real

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Driving when you're under the influence of drugs can affect clear judgement, concentration and being able to react quickly.

Taking drugs and driving puts you at greater risk of killing yourself, your friends or other innocent people in a crash.

Drink and drug driving reforms

From 20 May 2019, tougher penalties apply for low range drink driving offences, and for driving with the presence of an illicit drug.

The change is part of a number of reforms in the Road Safety Plan 2021 to reduce alcohol and drug related trauma on NSW roads.

The technology

Drug testing technologies are used all around Australia to give police the ability to test drivers at the roadside for the illegal drugs such as speed, ecstasy or marijuana.

Drug testing works much like random breath testing, which has massively reduced the drink driving toll since it was introduced in 1982.

NSW Police are also trained to identify drivers affected by any drugs including cocaine and heroin (and some prescription drugs such as valium) so even if you’re not pulled over for random roadside testing you could still be busted. If police suspect your driving is impaired by drugs they can arrest you and take blood and urine samples for testing. The penalties for driving while impaired by drugs are much harsher than those for driving with the mere presence of a drug and can include jail terms.

Which drugs are tested?

Cannabis, Speed (Ice, Crystal Meth, or base) and Ecstasy.

The test

Police will conduct a preliminary oral fluid test through the window of your vehicle. You will be required to lick the test pad of the device. A result will be known in 5 minutes. If you test negative, you will be able to drive away. If you test positive you will have to get out of your vehicle and go with the police officer to provide a second oral fluid sample in the police support vehicle. The second sample will be tested using oral fluid screening device. It should take about 20 minutes. If you test positive to this test you will not be charged at this time, however, you will be prohibited from driving for 24 hours by police. The remaining portion of your second oral fluid sample will be sent to a laboratory for confirmatory analysis. If the presence of one or more of these three drugs confirmed by the lab, you will receive a court attendance notification within a few weeks of your roadside drug test with the charge of driving with the presence of an illicit drug. 

Drugs that kill behind the wheel

Here’s how some common illegal drugs impair your driving skills.

Cannabis: marijuana, weed, mull, hash

Driving after having a joint or smoking a bong means you take longer to respond, it alters your distance time perception, lowers your concentration, coordination, alertness and ability to react and narrows or blurs your field of vision. Drivers often don’t realise they’re affected until faced with an unexpected situation: it’s only then they find they can’t make a quick or correct decision.

Speed, ecstasy, cocaine

If you take stimulants such as ecstasy or cocaine, or any form of amphetamine (speed, crystal meth, base) you may believe you drive better than you really can, take more risks, drive aggressively, be overstimulated, lose concentration, have blurry or limited vision, see things on the road that aren’t where you think they are and have scattered thoughts or delusions. Driving when you’re ‘coming down’ is also very dangerous. You are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Using speed can make you less aware of alcohol’s effects – you can become drunk without realising it.

Heroin, methadone, codeine

Using heroin and other opiates such as morphine, codeine, and methadone when you’re going to drive makes you sleepy, slows your reaction times, makes you lose your balance, coordination and concentration, takes your attention away from what’s happening on the road, causes blurry or limited vision, nausea, vomiting, and mood changes. Driving when you’re ‘hanging out’ or going through withdrawal is also dangerous.

Mixing drugs, including legally prescribed drugs and alcohol, or mixing one drug with another severely affects your driving and increases your risk of having a crash.