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Cannabis most common illegal drug detected in drivers in 2018

  • Drug drivers target of June Bank Holiday road safety campaign
  • Medical Bureau of Road Safety report 43% increase in number of drivers’ specimens submitted for analysis in first four months
  • Gardaí report a 15% increase in DUI arrests (alcohol or drugs) in first four months
  • 62 people have been killed or seriously injured in June Bank Holiday collisions in last five years

Drug drivers are being targeted over the June Bank Holiday weekend, it was announced today at the launch of a bank holiday safety drive by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), An Garda Síochána and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS).

The MBRS has reported a rise of approximately 43% in the number of blood and urine specimens received for alcohol and drugs testing in the first four months of the year when compared to the same period in 2018.

Statistics from An Garda Síochána show that the number of arrests for ‘Driving Under the Influence’ (DUI), which includes alcohol or drugs or a combination of both, is up 15%. There were 2,694 arrests for DUI from Jan-April 2019, versus 2,343 for Jan-April 2018.

Speaking ahead of the Bank Holiday, Mr. Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, said: “Driving under the influence of drugs has been a statutory offence since 1961 but it wasn’t until April 2017, with the introduction of Preliminary Drug Testing (PDT), that we had a drug testing device capable of testing for the presence of drugs in drivers at the roadside and in the Garda station. It’s clear that its introduction and the accompanying awareness raising campaigns have made a big contribution to tackling this killer behaviour.”

Ms. Moyagh Murdock, Chief Executive, Road Safety Authority said: “Anyone who drives under the influence of drugs is a clear danger to themselves and others. Our own research shows that many drug drivers incorrectly believe that certain drugs don’t impair them the way alcohol does and imagine themselves at low risk of collision. They also tend to overestimate their driving ability and show little understanding of how drugs affect their driving. Many have poor awareness of the impairing effects of drugs and make bad decisions about driving as a result. These drivers also need to be aware of the fact that the Gardaí now have the tools to detect for the presence of drugs at the roadside and in Garda stations and have been very successful in taking drugged drivers off the road. So, you are literally out of your mind to drug drive.”

Professor Denis Cusack, Director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, said: “Alcohol remains the most frequently detected drug in driving. Cannabis is the next most frequently found drug with Cocaine overtaking Benzodiazepines to be the third most prevalent intoxicant detected in Irish drivers. Many of the drivers issued with a drug certificate were also driving with alcohol in their system. Combinations of drugs and of drugs and alcohol have more than an additive effect on a person’s ability to function normally and this can have a devastating effect on their driving which may result in serious injuries or death. Since the introduction two years ago of PDT carried out by An Garda Síochána using the Draeger 5000 drug testing device, there has been a significant increase in drivers being arrested for driving under the influence of drugs.”

Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary, Garda National Roads Policing Bureau, said that: “An Garda Síochána is aware that many people will be travelling on the roads over the bank holiday weekend. Our priority is to ensure that people who use the road are not put at risk by the minority of drivers who drive while under the influence of an intoxicant. Intoxicated driving, whether alcohol or drugs, causes huge risk to all road users. Members of the Garda Roads Policing Unit will be conducting roadside screening at Mandatory Intoxicant Testing checkpoints right around the country. The roadside test for drugs has enabled members of the roads policing units to tackle the serious issue of drug driving. We will also be targeting other killer behaviours such as speeding, mobile phone use and non-wearing of seatbelts.”

As part of its efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of drug driving and garda enforcement the RSA has some purely informational videos which explain how the test was conducted, the consequences if arrested and how anyone with medical conditions should ensure they do not drive impaired.

The RSA will also be running its digital awareness campaign called “Uvula” which is aimed at young drivers highlighting that drivers can lie about drug driving but the Draeger 5000 drug testing machine cannot.

A list of possible scenarios which can arise during road traffic law enforcement for driving under the influence of drugs is also available for members of the public looking for more information.

A total of 62 people have been killed or seriously injured in June Bank Holiday collisions over the last five years.

To date in 2019 a total of 62 people have died on the roads, which is four more than up to the same period in 2018.


Editor’s Note:

The DrugTest 5000 devices used in the Garda stations and at the roadside test for Cannabis, Benzodiazepines, Opiates and Cocaine in oral fluid. Blood and urine samples from arrested drivers are sent to the MBRS for further testing.

In 2018 963 drivers were issued with a forensic result from the MBRS under the Road Traffic Acts certifying the concentration of either Cannabis or Cocaine. 927 drivers were issued with certificates certifying the presence of one of seven classes of drugs tested for by the MBRS (cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines, opiates, methadone, amphetamine and metamphetamine). 269 drivers were issued with both a concentration and a presence certificate. Many of the certificates certified the presence or concentration of several drugs and this polydrug use in drivers is of concern.

The MBRS tests for drugs which impair and have a negative impact on a person’s ability to drive safely. The MBRS urges all drivers to take heed of the patient information leaflets with medicines and to take advice from their doctors and pharmacists with regard to the effects that any medicines, drugs or combination of drugs have on their driving.

Table 1: Drugs Detected by the MBRS in Drivers’ Blood and Urine Specimens in 2018:

Cannabis 1,205
Opiates 339
Methadone 117

The list of some of the many drugs for which the Bureau tests is on the website at under Scope of Accreditation for Alcohol and Drugs Testing 2017-2022 in the Publications section.

Table 2: June Bank Holiday Casualty Statistics 2014 to 2018:

YearFatal CollisionsFatalities

Serious Injury