GARDAÍ AND THE Road Safety Authority launched their new drug testing regime for drivers today.
Officers will be breathalysing motorists for a range of illicit drugs at roadside checks from the early hours of tomorrow morning.
There will be 86 drug screening devices located in Garda stations nationally, and 50 more available for use at the roadside, Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn told reporters today.
He also addressed questions about whether road users could trust the force to carry out the testing and record accurate statistics, at today’s event.
Here’s everything you need to know about the testing:
Wasn’t drug-driving already illegal?
Yes, it’s been an offence since the 1960s. New rules that were brought in as part of last year’s Road Traffic Act are coming into effect this week – including the roll-out of Preliminary Drug Testing.
What are they testing for?
Cannabis, cocaine, opiates (like heroin and morphine) and benzodiazepines (like valium).
How will the tests work?
A new testing device – the appropriately-named Dräger DrugTest 5000 – was unveiled to reporters at an event at Store Street Garda Station in Dublin today.
The driver will be asked to breathe into it, and readings will show for the presence of a range of drugs. The process takes longer than an alcohol test – around fifteen minutes.
So there’ll be drugs-only checkpoints?
Sometimes, but the main idea is to test for both alcohol and drugs at combined checkpoints, which will be called Mandatory Intoxicant Checkpoints from now on.
Speaking at today’s event, gardaí said it was likely that drivers would be screened for the presence of alcohol first.
If they didn’t test positive for alcohol but gardaí still suspected something was up, they’d be asked to take the drug test.
On roads around certain events, officers might prioritise the drug tests.
Why is this being brought in?
Stats from the Medical Bureau for Road Safety show that drug driving is a real problem. Cannabis is the main drug detected on Irish roads, and the offenders tend to be young men.
Of the 3,020 specimens of blood and urine that the Bureau received last year, 24% confirmed positive for drugs other than alcohol.
Of those, 91% were specimens from male drivers, most of whom were aged between 17 and 44. After cannabis, benzodiazepines were the main drug detected.
Are there acceptable limits?
“There are limits,” Professor Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau told reporters today.
Limits had been set for three substances – cannabis, cocaine and heroin – based on reviews of international research, he explained.
He then got into the specifics of what the actual limits are, and it all got very jargon-y indeed: the overriding message was that you should never take drugs and drive.
Asked whether, for instance, it would be safe to drive after a single cannabis joint, he said:
“This is the problem with cannabis.” When you’re drinking alcohol, he said, the measures are regulated.
“The trouble with cannabis is it isn’t regulated. And we know – compared to say 20 or 30 years ago – what’s in joints now, what people put in, they don’t know the concentration or the strength or effect.
“That’s the problem when you say ‘am I safe with one joint?’ … I’d have to go back and say it’s the same as alcohol. Don’t drink and drive, don’t take drugs and drive.”
What about legal drugs?
Cusack said he was anxious to allay the fears of anybody taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
“Drivers with medical conditions should continue to take their prescribed medications in accordance with healthcare advice and medical fitness-to-drive guidelines,” he said.
“If you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines under the advice of your doctor or pharmacist, and so long as those medicines don’t impair your driving, you have nothing to be concerned about. If you are in any doubt, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about your concerns.”
Can we trust the Garda stats?
“I think we have turned a corner in terms of that and the systems we have put in place are showing that our statistics are proving to be solid and reliable,” Assistant Commissioner Finn said today.
Professor Cusack and Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who opened today’s event, both said they had confidence in the gardaí to carry out the recordings and compile statistics.
Finn said the first set of statistics from drug testing would be out in the next few weeks and that he’d be “delighted” to share them with the media.
That new ad campaign looks a bit odd…
Source: RSA Ireland/YouTube
Road Safety Authority chief Moyagh Murdock explained that the ads weren’t necessarily aimed at a general audience in the same manner as the ones about drink-driving.
Based on the stats from the MBRS, it made sense to target a younger audience and young men in particular, she said.
As this demographic tends to spend a lot of time online, they opted for imagery that would stand out and grab people’s attention as they looked at their social media feeds.
The new ad features talking uvula (it’s that thing at the back of your tongue – see above) that provides a kind of internal monologue for a young man who is stopped a roadside checkpoint.
Professor Cusack said the campaign wasn’t about picking on or victimising young men, but that was evidence based. “It’s about saving their lives,” and the lives of their loved ones, he said.
When does the new testing regime start?
Tonight at midnight, according to gardaí