Drugs and driving

Drug driving is a major road safety risk, of similar scale to drink driving.

It is an offence to drive under the influence of drugs (including medications that affect driving) and drivers can be tested at the roadside if an officer is concerned about their ability to drive safely.

Drug Testing Process

Did you know?

For prescription medications, it is a legal defence if you can demonstrate that you have complied with medical instructions (doctor’s advice or medication warnings)

Drug testing works alongside alcohol breath testing. If a driver appears impaired but passes an alcohol breath test the officer will conduct an impairment test. If the driver fails the impairment test, a blood sample will be taken and tested for drugs.

The penalty for drug driving is the same as the standard adult drink driving penalty.

Driving whilst impaired by drugs

The effect of drugs on a motorist’s ability to drive safely can vary considerably depending on factors like the type of drug, potency, and how long ago it was taken.

The impairment effects of some drugs, including cannabis, increase significantly when mixed with alcohol.

The safety risk also increases when any artificial wakefulness provided by a drug subsides and fatigue kicks in. This can have the effect of slowing the driver’s reactions behind the wheel.

AA speaking up for motorists

The AA strongly supports an increased focus on deterring, detecting and prosecuting drug driving.

The AA specifically wants:

  • Urgent research on the risks of drug driving in New Zealand
  • Police to be given funding, tools, resources and training to deliver a similar level of drug driving deterrence as is applied to drink driving
  • New Zealand to introduce random roadside drug testing as soon as practical (ie Police given power to test for drug driving without needing a “cause to suspect”)
  • the impact on driving to be a factor when deciding whether to approve a psychoactive substance for importation or sale in New Zealand
  • greater education on the risks of, and strategies to minimise, driving while impaired by prescription medications including internationally recognised warnings on packaging.

Driving under the influence of a mix of drugs and alcohol is a much higher risk than either substance alone. The AA is concerned that only those that pass the alcohol breath test are tested for drugs. At present, a driver who has taken both drugs and alcohol and fails the alcohol breath test will only be charged with drink driving. This understates the risks of drug driving and fails to deter drug driving.

The AA calls for a specific “cocktail offence” that recognises the increased risks of driving while impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol

What AA Members are saying

A 2009 survey found 89% of AA Members supported introducing roadside saliva tests for drugs.

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