Driving under the influence of drugs has been illegal since 1961. However, a new offence has been created for anyone being found in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle with the presence of cannabis, cocaine or heroin in their system. Previously, Gardaí were required to prove impairment but you’re now liable for prosecution if one of these three substances is detected in your system. Now, anyone under the influence of drugs can be prosecuted even if their driving isn’t impaired. The old test was difficult to prove use however the new system will be the same as the alcohol breathalyser.  

A driver who is discovered to have drugs in their system can be disqualified from driving for a year (or two years if it is their second offence), a fine of up to €5,000 and up to six months in prison.
If A driver fails a roadside test they will be taken to a Garda station and a blood or urine sample will be taken and sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety for further analysis. If this confirms that drugs have been taken, then the driver will face disqualification.

No amount of illegal drugs is acceptable if it shows up on the test. The varying strengths of different recreational or prescribed drugs make it difficult to advise people of how long they should wait after taking drugs before driving. The Director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety Professor Denis Cusack advised people not to drive for at least 24 hours after consuming cannabis. He also said that if you are taking prescribed drugs it may be best to wait as few days after taking them to see how they affect you before you drive. This is a little worrying for professional drivers who depend on driving for their income. They also said that drivers who have been prescribed drugs or over the counter products on the advice of your doctor should continue to take their medicine. However, if their driving is impaired from using any drugs, they can be prosecuted. If in doubt about whether to drive on prescription medicine, while your doctor or pharmacist may it’s safe to drive, if you are tested at the side of the road and you are found to have traces of the banned drugs, An Garda will have no option but to stop you from continuing on your journey until the full extent of the test is investigated. While Professor Cusack will say that it is up to the Gard to make the decision, the result of the test will in no doubt leave any responsible Garda with no option but to investigate the matter further. If the driver shows traces of illegal drugs like cannabis, cocaine or heroin, they will be prosecuted regardless of whether their driving has been affected.

Refusing or failing to take a roadside drug test is an offence, with penalties of up to six months in prison or a maximum fine of €5,000.
We don’t know how serious the problem within the professional driving industry is however we are very aware of the corners inquest into the fatalities in Monaghan in January 2016 when one of the drivers who died was found to have heroin in his system. In the general driving population, the Medical Bureau for Road Safety received 3,020 specimens of blood and urine in 2016 and found that 24% confirmed positive for drugs other than alcohol. Young male drivers were the biggest offenders, with 91% of these positive specimens coming from male drivers who were mostly in the 17-44 age range.
The EPDA will be looking for members to provide information on any issues that arise in relation to this testing.