Under new legislation Gardaí will be able to conduct roadside tests if they suspect that motorists are driving under the influence of drugs.
Speaking this week in the Dáil as he announced the new Road Traffic Bill 2016, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD said:
“The technology is now available to enable An Garda Siochána to test for drugs at the roadside, analogous to the way in which they already conduct roadside tests for alcohol.
"Drivers who are caught with heroin, cannabis or cocaine above the specific threshold will face a fine of up to €5,000 or a maximum of six months in prison or both. This puts the presence of these three drugs in drivers on the same basis as the presence of alcohol.”
Mr Ross also noted that the Bill provides the essential underpinnings for these new measures by empowering the Medial Bureau of Road Safety to test for concentrations of the specified drugs and also empowering the Bureau to test and provide to An Garda Siochána the devices for roadside testing.
He said: “If anyone doubts that we need to take action in this area, I would advise them to have a look at the 2014 Annual Report of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the latest such report available. This showed that 58% of the 1,158 specimens tested for drugs were positive for at least one drug.
"Even worse, the report also revealed that 53% of the specimens that tested positive for drugs tested positive for two or more drugs. What effect would that have on a driver? What kind of person gets behind the wheel in that state?
"If we cannot trust these people to act responsibly, we must act to give An Garda Siochána the tools to protect us from these people, and indeed to protect them from themselves.”
Mr Ross added: “Some people may argue that these new offences are excessive. They are not. These drugs can have a serious impact on ability to drive, and making their presence in drivers an offence is not more excessive than the law we already have for the presence of alcohol.”
A person convicted under the new provisions will also face a consequential disqualification from driving for a minimum of one year for a first offence and a minimum of two years in the case of a second or subsequent offence.
This compares to a more complex table of disqualifications for the presence of alcohol, ranging from minimum of 6 months to a minimum of 6 years. The difference is due to the fact that alcohol limits are divided into a number of bands.
Disqualification under the existing drug driving laws for drug driving while impaired is a minimum disqualification of 4 years.