By Jeremy Rochow
Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Last year alone, drug-driving was listed as a contributing factor in 25% of road fatalities in South Australia. Could there be a more important reason to stop this from happening? Words: Clair Morton
Exactly how much do illicit drugs affect your ability to drive? Difficulty concentrating, slower reflexes, muscle weakness, impaired coordination and an inability to judge speed and distance – these sound like the symptoms of an illness.
In reality, they’re just some of the reasons it’s not safe to get behind the wheel when you’re under the influence.
Perhaps even more dangerous is the fact drugs like speed and ecstasy, while making you a worse driver, can also increase confidence.
This means someone who’s high is more likely to take dangerous risks.
As these effects wear off, other potential killers such as drowsiness and fatigue can kick in. And even once the drug-induced high ends and you feel fine to drive, cannabis has been shown to affect your skills long after any outward signs of impairment have disappeared.
The simple fact is that driving with drugs in your system can increase the likelihood and severity of a crash.
RAA Senior Manager of Road Safety Charles Mountain said it was because of the known impacts on drivers that RAA strongly supported drug testing by SA Police.
“There’s been some controversy at a court level in Australia about drug testing of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive element in cannabis) in particular, but there are also people taking dangerous risks on our roads, and there needs to be a way to hold them accountable,” he said.
“Some drivers are still unaware of the effects these drugs can have on their driving ability, and how long they remain
active in their system.”
Mr Mountain also noted prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines could also greatly impair driving skills, and advised motorists to always check side effects with a healthcare professional before dosing up.
“It’s just not worth the risk to your own life, or the lives of other motorists on the road.”
Of the motorists killed while high, males made up...
What happens if I get pulled over?
Most motorists know the drill when it comes to random breath tests for drink driving, but what happens at a roadside drug test?
Similar to random breath testing, drivers and riders may be stopped for a roadside saliva test by a police officer at any time. If this happens, you’ll be asked to place a test strip on your tongue.
The test can identify the recent consumption of THC, methylamphetamine and MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine).
After alcohol, these are the three drugs most often detected in the blood of fatally injured drivers and motorcyclists in SA.
Depending on the amount and potency of the drug used, and the individual’s metabolism, THC can be detected for several hours after use, while methylamphetamine and MDMA may be detected for about 24 hours.
A driver who tests positive to the initial saliva test will have to leave their vehicle for a second test, either an oral fluid analysis or blood test. Once this is done the driver can go, but won’t be allowed to drive their vehicle.
Secondary drug tests are then sent off for laboratory analysis. This means it may be a few weeks after the incident before drivers are informed of the results – which, if positive, will result in either a fine or a court notice.
If they want, drivers can be given a part of the sample to have their own analysis done.
Paying the price
If you get caught for a drug driving-related offence, here’s what you could be facing:
Driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug: Court-imposed penalty of at least $1100, six
demerit points, and minimum 12-month disqualification.
Driving with illicit drug in saliva or blood (not exhibiting symptoms of intoxication: $613 fine, four demerit points, a $60 Victims of Crime Levy.
Police may also wheel clamp or impound the offender’s vehicle. If the charge isn’t disputed in court, a three-month licence disqualification will automatically apply.
Driving high could result in a penalty of at least
Repeat drug-driving offences: Drivers caught more than once within a five-year period will get a minimum 12-month disqualification for a second offence, at least two years for a third offence and at least three years for any further offences.
They’ll also have to pay a court-imposed fine, plus costs and a Victims of Crime Levy.
Refusing or failing to comply with a drug screening test: Court-imposed penalty of at least $900, 12-month immediate loss of licence, six demerit points.
If you ever get behind the wheel of a car while high, ask yourself: Is this worth risking my life for? Is it worth risking others’ lives? The answer’s pretty clear: if you take drugs, put down the car keys.