Drug Driving

In early 2017 certain provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 2016 were commenced in order to bring into operation a new scheme of criminal offences that relate to drug driving.

Prior to commencement of the Road Traffic Act 2016, in order for a person to be convicted of drug driving, the prosecution had to show that the person in question was driving or attempting to drive a vehicle in a public place when they were intoxicated and, as a result of that intoxication, they were unable to properly control their vehicle.

Following the introduction by the Road Traffic Act 2016 of the new strict liability offences, where a driver is found to have certain levels of cannabis, heroin or cocaine in their system within three hours of driving, the prosecution will not need to prove that the driver’s ability to drive the vehicle was actually affected by their intoxication. This is similar to the existing law as it applies to drunken driving. For drugs and intoxicants other than cannabis, heroin or cocaine, the old regime will continue to apply and the prosecution will still have to show that driving ability was actually impaired.

The Gardaí have been given new powers to assist them in the detection of drug driving on Irish roads. The Road Traffic Act 2016 amends the law to enhance garda powers on the roadside so that a driver can now be required to provide a sample of oral fluid to be analysed. Up until now, a driver could only be required to provide a sample of their breath for the purpose of testing for alcohol. If a driver fails or refuses to provide oral fluid when lawfully required this is, in and of itself, a criminal offence.

Where oral fluid is provided, it is analysed for the presence of drugs. If the result of the analysis indicates that drugs are present, the driver will then be arrested and brought to a garda station where a doctor will be called to take a blood sample. Again, a failure or refusal to permit a doctor to take a blood sample is a separate criminal offence and will result in a minimum driving disqualification of four years upon conviction.

Once taken, the blood samples are divided into two separate containers and sealed. The driver will be offered one of the specimens to take with them to have independently tested if they wish. If the driver chooses to take one of the specimens, the remaining sample will be sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to test for the presence and concentration of drugs.

The new strict liability drug driving offences concern five separate molecules. Where any of those molecules are detected by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety at a concentration exceeding that indicated in the table below, and the blood sample was taken within three hours of driving, the driver will be guilty of an offence.

Consequential Disqualification Period Table

DrugLevel (in blood)
?9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis)1ng/ml
11-nor-9-carboxy-?9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis)5ng/ml
Benzoylecgonine (Cocaine)50ng/ml
6-Acetylmorphine (Heroin)5ng/ml

If a driver is convicted of the new drug driving offence they will face a minimum of a one year disqualification although the judge hearing the case will have a discretion to disqualify the driver for a longer period if the facts of the case merit it. Moreover, a fine of up to €5,000 can be imposed as can a period of imprisonment of up to six months.

At Canning and Company, we have spent years representing our clients in intoxicated driving offences and developing a keen understanding of this notoriously complex and technical area of law. The Road Traffic Act 2016 has given rise to monumental change in the landscape of intoxicated driving offences. If you have been charged with an intoxicated driving offence and wish to seek out advice or representation in relation to the charge you can contact our offices at Unit 145 The Capel Building, Mary’s Abbey, Dublin 7, D07 TX3F, Ireland.

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