What you need to know about the new drug-driving laws
One of the most significant recent developments in road safety was the introduction of preliminary drug testing before Easter. As expected, it has raised some concerns among people taking over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
It has been an offence to drive under the influence of drugs since the introduction of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The legal definition says you must not be intoxicated (through alcohol, drugs or any combination of both) while in charge of a vehicle.
Since April 13 this year, gardaí have had new powers to test the saliva of drivers for cannabis, cocaine, opiates (eg morphine) and benzodiazepines (eg valium) at the roadside or in a Garda station.
Similar to a drink-drive checkpoint, the new law allows for a mandatory intoxicant testing checkpoint. It means that gardaí can now test for alcohol and drugs at the roadside. So in addition to being breathalysed for alcohol, you may be asked to provide an oral fluid sample.
Here are some answers to regularly raised questions on the issue.
Will I be arrested if my saliva is positive for drugs?
If your saliva tests positive for cannabis or cocaine, you will be arrested and brought to the station where a blood specimen will be collected and sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) for analysis.
If your saliva tests positive for benzodiazepines or opiates and gardaí are of the opinion you are impaired, you will be arrested and brought to the station where a blood specimen will be collected and sent to the MBRS.
If your saliva tests positive for benzodiazepines or opiates and the Garda is of the opinion you are not impaired, you are not committing an offence and can drive on.
What happens if my saliva is negative for drugs?
If you test negative but the Garda is of the opinion you are impaired due to some other drug the device hasn't picked up (such as amphetamines), you will be arrested and brought to the station where a blood or urine specimen will be collected and sent to the MBRS. If your saliva tests negative, but the Garda is of the opinion you are not impaired, you are free to go.
Will I test positive from taking over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin/cold and flu medicine?
Most over-the-counter medicines will not be detected by the new test. However, codeine, which is in products like Nurofen Plus and Solpadeine, is an opiate and is detectable. This is not a problem if you are not impaired. Codeine can cause impairment which could affect your ability to drive safely. Medicines that can cause drowsiness such as anti-histamines, which are in some cold and flu remedies, may impair your ability.
Follow the advice of your doctor and/or pharmacist when taking any medicines and always read the patient information leaflet which will advise on recommended dosages and whether the medicine can affect your ability to drive.
Will herbal medications show up in the test?
In general, herbal medicines will not show up in the test. However, if it contains a drug that can cause impairment, it may be detected by the MBRS in its analysis.
What should I do if I'm taking medication and not sure whether it affects my driving? Who can I talk to about my medication?
Follow the advice provided by your doctor and/or pharmacist when taking any medicines and always read the patient information leaflet. The RSA has produced a handy leaflet which is being distributed to GP surgeries and pharmacies on 'Medicines and Driving' and provides some good advice. You'll also find it on our website rsa.ie.