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Drug Driving

While it’s true that the effects of specific drugs on driving ability can differ depending on a bunch of factors, the hard truth is that driving under the influence of any drug will have an impact on your judgement, how you make decisions,  and how you react to different obstacles on the road. Here’s the low down.

The facts

In the last five years, approximately 41% of all drivers and motorcyclists who lost their life on the roads had drugs in their system, with cannabis and stimulants most commonly detected.

One in four Victorians who use drugs admit to driving under the influence of recreational drugs.

What happens if I take drugs and drive?

There are different ways that drugs will affect your driving ability, and if you combine drugs these effects can become even more dangerous. If you want to talk specifics, check out the list below.

Cannabis slows a person's reaction time, distorts perception of speed and distance, and reduces concentration and coordination.

Heroin will cloud mental function. Heart function also slows, along with breathing – sometimes enough to be life-threatening. Other effects include reduced spatial awareness, cognitive impairment including your ability to concentrate and make decisions, and drowsiness, which will all impact your ability to drive.

Methamphetamine (ICE), Ecstasy, and Cocaine can lead to overconfidence, rash decision making and risk taking. Insomnia caused by ICE and cocaine use can affect a driver's reflexes and concentration.

Hallucinogens affect hearing and sight as well as the perception of time, distance and movement, and they can make a person sense things that don't exist.

Using a combination of drugs and alcohol can lead to extreme and varied effects such as dramatically slowed reaction times, visual distortion such as blurred or double vision, inability to judge speeds and distances, and increased risk taking.

How will I get caught?

Roadside Drug Testing (RDT) is conducted from booze/drug buses, marked and unmarked patrol cars, police motorcycles and mobile intercepts.

Victoria Police have increased drug testing from 40,000 tests in 2014 to 150,000 tests in 2019. This number is set to increase each year.

What drugs are detected by roadside drug tests?

A standard roadside drug test will detect the following substances:

-THC (Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the active component in cannabis.
- Methamphetamine, which is found in drugs such as ’speed’, ’base’, ‘ice’, and ‘crystal meth’.
- MDMA, which is known as ecstasy

If Victoria Police believe that you are driving with drugs in your system they may ask you to complete a Standard Impairment Test. Afterwards, you might be asked to undertake a blood test which will detect any substances that you have used. There is a separate charge for driving while impaired and it also carries severe penalties.

How long do drugs stay in your system?

It’s hard to know how long drugs will remain in your system as this varies from person to person and will depend on how much and which drug you’ve consumed. The tests used by Victoria Police can detect drugs in saliva for several hours after use.

While you may no longer feel the effect of the drug, or feel impaired, the drug may still be present in your system. The side-effects are long lasting and cause fatigue, so your driving ability will still be impaired. If drugs are in your party plan, avoid driving all together and plan to have alternative transport.

What about prescription meds?

Over the counter and prescription medications can also impair your driving ability, even when used as directed. You should always talk with your doctor or pharmacist to see how medications may affect your driving.

Alcohol could also impact your medications and affect your driving ability - be sure to ask your doctor about this too.

The damage

If you’re caught drug driving, at a minimum you’ll face:

- Loss of licence for 6 months
- A fine of $555
- You will need to complete a Drug Driver Program in the first three months of your suspension period or your licence/learner permit will be cancelled.

You can be given a penalty for:

- Failing a roadside drug test
- Driving while impaired by a drug
- Refusing to undertake a roadside drug test and/or impairment test by Victoria Police.

The penalties will increase if you are caught more than once, or if you’ve committed other driving offences. You could lose your licence for up to a year and face thousands of dollars in fines. For some offences, police may also have the power to impound your vehicle.

The bottom line

Drug Driving. It will cost you.

Whether it’s the day after a big night or the start of a new week, it’s important to remember that there is no safe level of drug use when it comes to driving. While you may not ‘feel’ impaired – especially if it’s something you do often – there’s a good chance the drug will still be lingering in your system (and detectable by roadside drug tests).

Plan your public transport route, call an Uber, book that festival shuttle or hit up a sober driver to take you where you need to go. It’s better than losing your licence, or worse – a loved one.