The New Danger on Our Roads

Drug driving – the new danger on our roads?

Australian road safety initiatives targeting drink driving, speeding and the use of seat belts have seen considerable reductions in road trauma in the last 30 years.

However, drug driving has become an increasing concern, with studies suggesting drugs other than alcohol are associated with impaired driving ability and, therefore, road trauma.

A recently published study led by Dr Chin Wei Ch’ng and Associate Professor Mark Fitzgerald (National Trauma Research Institute) was conducted on adult drivers who presented to the Emergency and Trauma Centre of The Alfred hospital, Melbourne, between December 2000 and April 2002 as a result of a motor vehicle crash. Almost half (46.7 per cent) of the 436 people tested had cannabis in their systems. Other prevalent drugs included benzodiazepines (15.6 per cent), opiates (11 per cent), amphetamines (4.1 per cent) and methadone (3 per cent).*

New report; Drugs and Driving in Australia – a brief report. The first of its kind in Australia, the aim of this research was to gain an understanding of the Australian community’s experiences of, and attitudes toward, drugs and driving.

Key drug-driving findings.

■ The drug most commonly associated with drug driving was alcohol, with 12.6 per cent of drinkers admitting to driving with a BA C over .05 in the past year. This was followed by cannabis (12.3 per cent), methamphetamine (6.9 per cent), ecstasy (5.8 per cent) and benzodiazepine (four per cent). ■ Males were more likely to partake in drug driving than females.

■ Young people were more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol, ecstasy and methamphetamines, but cannabis users of all ages were equally likely to drug drive.

■ Drug users were far less likely to think drug driving is dangerous compared to those who had never used drugs.

■ Respondents were well informed about the impact of alcohol on driving, but were uninformed about illicit and prescription drugs.

■ Only 3.1 per cent of drivers experienced Random Drug Testing in the past year, but 42 per cent think it likely they will be tested in the coming year.

■ Overwhelmingly, respondents had little idea about how long to wait between illicit and pharmaceutical drug use and driving.

■ The more often someone takes a drug, the more likely they are to drug drive.

When it came to illicit drugs, the respondents were in the dark about the impact these substances could have on their driving.

Effect on driving of various Substances


  • decreased driver concentration, vigilance and vision
  • slower reaction times
  • drivers ignore road rules
  • difficulty keeping a vehicle within lane limits and in the correct direction
  • difficulty interpreting complex sensory information

Cannabis Grass, pot,

  • lack of coordination
  • slower reaction times
  • slower information processing

Methamphetamine Speed

  • increased risk-taking
  • tendency to fidget
  • aggression
  • disorientation and attention difficulties
  • lack of coordination

MDMA – methylenedioxymethamphetamine, Ecstasy

  • reduced ability to control a vehicle
  • reduced ability to judge risky behaviour


  • drowsiness and fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • lack of muscular coordination
  • slower reaction time
  • slower information processing and visual acuity

Drugs and Driving in Australia: a survey of community attitudes, experience and understanding, a report prepared by Australian Drug Foundation Centre for Youth Drug Studies Director, Dr Jane Mallick, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre Research Fellow, Dr Jennifer Johnston, Australian Drug Foundation Senior Research Officer, Dr Netzach Goren and Australian Drug Foundation Research Officer, Vanessa Kennedy. For a full copy of the report visit



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