Drug driving

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Drug factscopy of a brochure called drugs driving and you

Driving a motor vehicle safely is a complex task. We must be mentally alert, have clear vision and good physical coordination. This allows us to pay close attention to many things at once, and to react quickly when something unexpected happens. 

Taking drugs or other substances that affect the brain can reduce the ability to drive safely. It is an offence to drive if you are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and do not have proper control of your vehicle. Keep in mind that if you have taken alcohol or other drugs it is difficult to assess how much your own driving skills have been affected. If you intend to drive, the safest option is not to have any alcohol or other drugs in your system at all. This includes any prescription medicines that affect your driving ability. It is also important to remember that fatigue, and the after-effects of drug use "coming down", can affect your driving skills.

It is estimated that you are about:

  • 32 times more likely to be killed in a crash when using both drugs and alcohol
  • 18 times more likely to be killed in a crash when using multiple drugs.

Mobile Drug Testing

The NSW mobile drug testing (MDT) campaign started in November 2015 and involves the detection of ecstasy, cannabis and speed in drivers. Using the combination of education and enforcement the NSW Police aim to deter drivers who have used drugs or alcohol from getting behind the wheel. Information about the campaign is provided on the Transport NSW website.

How long will drugs stay in my system?

Drugs and alcohol affect every person differently, so drug testing results will be unique to each individual.

Results can be affected by:

  • the strength of the drug or alcohol
  • how much you have taken
  • how you have used it
  • how often you have used it
  • other drugs you have taken

Results can also be affected by your:

  • tolerance
  • sex and age
  • overall health and wellbeing
  • metabolism
  • mood, and the environment you are in

How long can they be detected?

Cannabis: Random roadside drug testing can detect THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) for at least several hours after use. The exact time can vary, depending on the amount and potency of the cannabis used and the individual's metabolism. Inactive THC residue in the body of a driver from use in previous days or weeks will not be detected. However there have been reported cases of people testing positive to cannabis a number of days after consuming.

Methamphetamine ("speed", "ice") may be detected for approximately 24 hours after use by random roadside drug testing and is dependent upon the amount and potency of the drug and the individual's metabolism. Note that the withdrawal effects of methamphetamine, such as fatigue, anxiety and irritability, can also lead to unsafe driving.

MDMA (ecstasy) may be detected for approximately 24 hours after use by random roadside drug testing. The exact time will be dependent upon the size and potency of the dose, if other drugs are used at the same time and the individual's metabolism. 
If you are taking medication it is best to talk to your doctor about whether you are safe to drive. Also check whether your medication will be affected if you drink alcohol.

Staying safe

The only sure way to test negative on a drug test - other than not taking drugs - is to make sure your body has eliminated all of the drugs you have taken.

Most drugs take at least 24 to 48 hours to leave your body. This means that even if you are not drunk or stoned any more, these drugs can continue to affect your body. If you are taking more than one drug at a time (including drinking alcohol), the drugs may take even longer to be eliminated from your body.

Avoid driving whenever you have been using alcohol or other drugs. Also remember that even if you feel like you are OK to drive, you are still likely to be affected and unsafe on the roads.

If you intend to use alcohol or other drugs and need to travel, plan ahead by:

  • organising a driver who will not be using any alcohol or other drugs
  • arranging to be picked up
  • using public transport or a taxi
  • arranging to stay overnight

It is important to remember that alcohol and other drugs can continue to affect you the next day. Fatigue, hangovers and "coming down" can also affect your driving ability.

If you would like more information on drink and drug driving, please contact our Road Safety Officer on (02) 4232 0444.