Gardaí can now test motorists whom they suspect of driving under the influence of drugs at the roadside.
The new measure was launched in Store Street Garda Station in Dublin on Wednesday morning.
The new Garda powers mean Gardaí can now establish roadside checkpoints, Mandatory Impairment Checkpoints (MIT), to test drivers for the presence of both alcohol and drugs.
The new drug testing devices (Dräger DrugTest 5000) involve testing a sample of a driver’s oral fluid (saliva) for the presence of cannabis, cocaine, opiates (e.g. heroin, morphine) and benzodiazepines (e.g. valium). The new devices will also be available in Garda stations.
The Medical Bureau for Road Safety (MBRS) found that of the 3,020 specimens of blood and urine that it received in 2016, 24% confirmed positive for drugs other than alcohol. Of these, 91% were specimens from male drivers, most of whom were in the 17-44 year age range. Cannabis was the most prevalent drug detected, followed by benzodiazepines.
Speaking at the launch, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross, said the introduction of Preliminary Drug Testing is an important step in tackling drug driving: “Driving under the influence of drugs has been an offence in Ireland since 1961. The law states that a person must not be impaired (through alcohol, drugs or any combination of both) while driving or in charge of a vehicle.
“However, driving under the influence of drugs remains a problem in Ireland. It is estimated that drug driving is a factor in approximately one in ten fatal crashes. Drug driving not only puts the driver at risk but also passengers and others who share the road.
“The introduction of Preliminary Drug Testing now strengthens the ability of the Gardaí to tackle the problem. This is just one step in a multi-faceted approach my Department and I are taking to tackle the recent increase in road fatalities.”
Preliminary Drug Testing will be carried out by An Garda Síochána using the Dräger DrugTest® 5000, an easy to use mobile drug screening system that uses oral fluid to test for some of the most commonly abused drugs.
To support the introduction of Preliminary Drug Testing, the RSA will run a comprehensive online media campaign, targeting the use of illicit drugs in the 18 to 34 year-old age bracket, to raise awareness of the new Garda drug-testing powers. This campaign will primarily feature videos which demonstrate how the drug tests will be administered on the road side and the consequences should a driver be detected driving under the influence of drugs. This awareness campaign will run on social media, radio and digital platforms.
The RSA is also running a parallel campaign aimed at allaying the concerns of those taking medicines and driving (over the counter and prescription drugs). Specifically, the RSA is putting information leaflets into pharmacies and doctors’ surgeries nationwide.