'Completely sober' drivers who smoked cannabis in last week could be prosecuted under new laws

15/12/2015 - 12:23

Cannabis users who have not taken the drug for a week or more could be prosecuted under proposed new drug-driving legislation, the Transport Minister said today.

At the moment, motorists who use drugs can be prosecuted only if their driving is impaired, but this new legislation would allow gardaí to test a driver's saliva on the side of the road, followed by a blood test.

Speaking to Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, Minister Paschal Donohoe said that the new laws will allow gardaí to test for different forms of illicit drugs.

“We have a measure that is referred to as a nitrogram (sic) per millilitre of drug, and that will vary on the kind of drug that is tested,” he said.

“So we’re going to have three different drugs … there will be cannabis, there will be heroin and then there will be cocaine, and there will be a different limit per drug.

“They are laid out in an early schedule of the Bill – for cocaine it’s 10 nanograms per millilitre … for heroin it’s five nanograms per millilitre of blood.”

When it was pointed out that traces of cannabis can stay in the body for a week, the Minister was asked if cannabis users who were “completely sober” at the time of the test could be prosecuted.

“Yes,” he said.

“We have a growing amount of evidence that indicates very clearly that the presence of drugs like that can impair your ability to drive a vehicle safely.

“The Medical Bureau of Road Safety, over a 10-year period, conducted a survey for the presence of drugs in the systems of people who lost their lives on our roads.

“That indicates, that across that 10-year period, just under 10% [9.7%] of people who tragically lost their lives did have drugs in their system, and out of that 10% of people, between 60-70% of them had cannabis in their system.”

He also denied that prosecuting drivers who had not taken cannabis for a week was a case of the Government prosecuting a drug offence rather than a road safety offence.

“No, it’s a road safety offence,” he said.

“What we are now doing is bringing into line our body of law in road law in relation to alcohol to make that completely consistent now with drug testing.

“So where we are in alcohol, is the presence of alcohol in your system, above a certain level, is evidence of the presence of alcohol, therefore of impairing your ability to drive safely.”

When it was put to Minister Donohoe that alcohol “does not stay in the human system for a week and then render you unable to drive”, he responded; “Indeed, and that is why we need a whole new body of law in relation to the use and presence of drugs within your system.

“And that is precisely the reason why, in relation to a particular group of drugs, it’s now the presence of drugs, and that’s why in this Bill, it gives statutory underpinning … for the use of roadside units and devices which would test for the presence of those drugs in your system.”

He went on to outline the procedure that would take place.

“By the side of the road, when you undergo the test, a swab will be used to gain a specimen off you, an oral specimen.

“That will then be tested in a unit, that unit tests positive for the earlier groups that we have talked about, that of itself will be an offence.”

When asked if gardaí required the driver’s consent for a saliva test, he said: “For the saliva [test], they will not, they [the gardaí] will be able to go ahead and do that.”

He said if opiates are found, which can be as a result of prescription drugs, a further “impairment test” will be conducted to determine if the person is intoxicated.

He added that the penalties for failing a drug test “will be in line with where we are now for alcohol testing”, with maximum penalties of a €5,000 fine and/or six months in prison, as well as disqualifications from driving.

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