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Everyone is aware of the rules on drink driving, even if far too many people choose to flaunt those laws. Yet there is far less awareness of the rules regarding recreational drugs and driving.
So what are the rules, how is drug driving tested, and what are the penalties if you are found to be driving when you have taken drugs?
Drug driving is every bit as serious as drink driving, if not more so. Illegal drug abuse, whether it involves cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin or a cocktail of prescription drugs taken to ‘get high’ can make drivers aggressive, erratic, paranoid and less responsive.
If you are under the influence of illegal drugs, you can be prone to panic attacks and hallucinations. A drug ‘high’ can make a driver feel invincible, and think that they are capable of driving at speeds way beyond their actual ability. At best, you may feel tired and lethargic with little or no concentration, unable to react quickly enough if the situation requires it.
All of this adds up to similar, if not worse, consequences for your driving ability.
Given the wide range of detrimental effects of drugs on driving performance, it is no surprise that driving under the influence of drugs is treated much the same as drink driving by both the police and the courts.
Drug users often think that they can get away with driving under the influence of drugs, as drugs cannot be as easily detected as alcohol. However they could not be more wrong. Modern police forces come across drivers under the influence of drugs every day and can readily identify the tell-tale signs. For example, cannabis will expand the blood vessels in the eyes, making them bloodshot and red, while ecstasy and cocaine will dilate the pupils even in bright light.
If you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, the police will conduct a roadside test, called the Field Impairment Assessment, to see if you are fit to be driving. This comprises five tests, including balance and walking tests.
If you fail, you will be arrested and taken into custody for a definitive blood test, to identify the drugs you have taken and their level in your blood stream.
If you are found to have taken drugs that have impaired your ability to drive, and you are stopped when driving, you will face similar penalties as if you had been caught drink driving:
As with a drink driving conviction, a conviction for drug driving will make it hard to get motor insurance in the future and may prevent you from gaining access to certain countries such as the USA.