New roadside drug testing technology, which has been introduced to assist gardaí in identifying motorists driving under the influence of cocaine, marijuana, opiates and benzodiazepines, such as Valium, has Irish motorists' backing.
In response to an AA Ireland poll of more than 3,000 of its members and customers, 78.97 per cent of those surveyed described themselves as very supportive of the new testing, with another 12.37 per cent stating they were "somewhat supportive".
Conor Faughnan, AA director of consumer affairs, says gardaí have always had the ability to test drivers for drugs which may impair their driving ability, but had previously relied on less scientific testing such as a balance test.
"From now on, at specific checkpoints set up for the purposes of drug testing, a saliva sample will be taken by gardaí and a result will be provided to gardaí within 15 minutes. In the event of a positive test the driver will then be brought back to the Garda station where a blood sample will be taken for further analysis,” says Faughnan.
“If you are taking a prescribed medication in accordance with your doctor’s advice and have not been told that you cannot drive while using it, then there is no cause for concern. However, if you do have any doubts about your medication or have felt side-effects which may impact your driving ability after taking the medication, then it’s important to consult your doctor or pharmacist to get the best advice or an alternative medication is necessary.”
According to the survey older drivers were most supportive of the new testing, while women were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to have a positive opinion of the measure.
The results show that 84.84 per cent of those over 65 described themselves as "very supportive" of the additional drug testing compared to 73.68 per cent of those aged between 36 and 45. Meanwhile, 80.77 per cent of women surveyed strongly supported the additional testing, compared to 77.85 per cent of men.
However, in response to concerns surrounding the testing for prescription drugs, the AA is highlighting that gardaí will also be required to prove the motorist’s ability to drive has been affected by the medication. In the event that drivers are found to have a level of benzodiazepines in their systems which result in a positive test, they can only be charged with an offence if gardaí can prove impairment according to advice the motoring organisation received from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.
“When we bring up the word ‘drugs’ we all jump to thinking of illegal substances such as cocaine or heroin, which the new technology will test for, but we sometimes overlook the ways prescription medication can affect your driving,” Faughnan adds.
“If you are taking Valium, for example, in accordance with a doctor’s advice and you have not been told you cannot drive, then you will not be impacted by this new testing. However, at times we can be a nation of self-medicators and, if you start ignoring your doctor’s advice and taking more than the recommended dosage, then you do run the risk of a failed result and having your driving ability affected by your medication which could ultimately result in a driving ban.
“The last thing we want to see is people who are taking prescription drugs for legitimate reasons worried about a failed test or a driving ban. If you are following your doctor or pharmacists advice and the medication you are taking does not impair your driving ability, then this new testing isn’t a cause for concern.”
If convicted of driving while under the influence of drugs, a driver can face a fine of up to €5,000, up to six months in prison, or a driving ban of at least one year if the failed test was in relation to cocaine, cannabis or opiates.