Longford motorists can now be tested by gardai at the roadside for illegal drugs in their systems, thanks to new legislation which was introduced on Wednesday, April 12.
A new testing device will enable gardai to check, on the spot, a sample of the driver’s saliva for cannabis, cocaine, opiates such as heroin or morphone or benzodiazepines such as valium. The test takes a few minutes to carry out.
Dr Denis Cusack, who is the director of the Medical Bureau for Road Safety (MBRS) said at the launch that the focus of the campaign was not on a battle against illicit drugs. Rather, it concentrates on whether drivers are safe to get behind the wheel.
He added that it is important not to scare people who are taking prescribed or over the counter drugs for legitimate reasons.
Nevertheless, Dr Cusack warned that even they should exercise caution, at times such as changing medicines, if they feel their driving could be impaired.
It is already illegal in Ireland to drive under the influence of drugs, including prescribed drugs if you don’t have proper control of the vehicle. In the cases of cannabis, cocaine and heroin, drivers whose tests show the presence of these drugs above specified limits can be prosecuted for drug driving, whether or not their driving is actually impaired.
The penalties for drug driving convictions include:
l a minimum 1-year driving disqualification if you are found to be above the legal threshold for cocaine, cannabis or heroin;
l a minimum of four years driving disqualification if you are found to have drugs in your body and are impaired to such an extent that you do not have proper control of a vehicle;
l up to €5,000 fine;
l up to 6 months prison.
The Mechanical Bureau for Road Safety found that almost a quarter of the 3,020 specimens of blood or urine it received in 2016 tested positive for drugs other than alcohol.
Most of those positive specimens belonged to make drivers aged between 17 and 44, and cannabis was the most prevalent drug detected.
There will be 86 of the new drug screening devices located in Garda stations across the country, with 50 more available for roadside use.