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RSA analysis shows frightening rise of drug-driving in Ireland

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has revealed that drug-driving is a major problem on Ireland’s roads.

At their annual Academic Lecture, the RSA showed that 68% of drivers with a positive roadside drug test between April 2017 and July 2019 had a positive test for cannabis. Cocaine is next with 37%.

They said that the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) findings show cannabis is now not far behind alcohol in blood and urine samples it examined.

Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, said: “Driving under the influence of drugs has been a statutory offence since 1961 but it wasn’t until 2017, with the introduction of Preliminary Drug Testing, that we had a drug testing device capable of testing for the presence of drugs in drivers at the roadside and in the Garda station.

"It’s clear that its introduction has resulted in an increase in drug driving detections, but the results presented today show that a continued enforcement and education effort is required to tackle this killer behaviour.”

Moyagh Murdock, Chief Executive of the RSA said: “It’s concerning, because they confirm that drug driving is a major problem on our roads. We will continue to educate drivers on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and work closely with the Gardaí to support their enforcement activity.

"But we will do more to examine the factors around drug driving and examine international best practice to find interventions that can be applied here to tackle drug driving.”

Professor Denis A. Cusack, Director of Medical Bureau of Road Safety, acknowledged that drugs driving is now a major problem in Ireland.

He said: "Younger men are the largest age group represented in positive samples.

"Since the introduction of road side screening devices for drugs in April 2017, the Gardaí have been successful in detecting drivers under the influence of drugs in increasing numbers. However there is a need to increase drug testing of drivers in Garda stations.

“Of the 2,144 samples under 80mgs of alcohol BAC in 2018 analysed in the MBRS, 3 out of 4 were positive for drugs and of these 3 out of 4 in turn were positive for cannabis.”

He added that prescribable and over-the-counter drugs are also a problem in Ireland.

He said: "However, this must be seen in context – the presence alone of these drugs in your system is not necessarily a problem, it is when it causes impairment in driving.

"Drivers with medical conditions should continue to take their prescribed medications in accordance with healthcare advice and medical fitness-to-drive guidelines. If you experience impairment speak to your GP or pharmacist.”

The RSA Academic Lecture also unveiled preliminary results from a collaboration between the RSA, Health Research Board (HRB) and MBRS, looking at the presence of drugs among road user fatalities.

    Analyses of the toxicology results of 310 driver and motorcyclists killed during 2013-2016 demonstrated that:

  • 11% had a positive toxicology for at least one benzodiazepine
  • 8% had a positive toxicology for cocaine
  • 7% had a positive toxicology for cannabis