The increasing focus on drug driving charges

If you were nabbed by police driving with drugs in your system over the recent Easter break, you are certainly not alone. According to police, an incredible one in six NSW drivers who were tested for drugs over Easter returned a positive result for methamphetamine, cannabis or ecstasy.

Police usually expect to see a result of about one in 14 drivers testing positive, but
of the 1,300 random drug tests that were conducted over the holiday period, 222 drivers returned positive results.

This represents a huge increase, and the numbers of drivers being caught are likely to continue rising with more roadside drug testing being a key law and order promise of the NSW Government.

Drug testing capacity is expected to triple, with more testing equipment being made available in country areas.

Why is there a concern about drug driving?

The drugs that are of the greatest concern to police and road safety authorities are cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy – but cocaine and heroin are also targeted.

Cannabis causes delayed response times and affects concentration and coordination. It can also cause blurred vision.

Cocaine and amphetamines, including ecstasy, can cause over-confidence and aggressive driving, poor concentration and blurred vision.

Heroin and codeine can make drivers drowsy, causing delayed reaction times. Concentration, coordination and vision can also be affected.

Mixing drugs together or with alcohol can magnify the effects, or produce other problems in addition.

What are the offences?

There are two offences for drug driving; it is an offence to drive a car:

  • With an illicit drug present in your blood, saliva or urine; or
  • Under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Penalties for the first offence typically involve fines and licence disqualification for first time offenders. The second offence is more serious, and penalties can include imprisonment.

Legislation sets out a range of drugs that are prohibited, including cannabis, amphetamine and ecstasy.

If you are pulled over for testing, your saliva is swabbed and assessed by a portable drug testing unit. If it is positive, the swab will be retained as evidence and a second swab may be taken for analysis.

It is also an offence to drive with morphine or cocaine present in your blood, urine or saliva.

There are separate requirements for the testing of these substances – no saliva test is taken, but if police suspect the presence of any of these drugs, you can be required to submit to blood and urine tests at a hospital.

It is an offence to refuse to submit to a drug test and penalties can include fines and/or licence disqualification.

It is also an offence to alter the drug concentration in your system after driving and before taking a saliva test. This means that you cannot consume more drugs in an attempt to compromise the testing process.

A charge of drug driving will require you to attend court.

Are there defences to drug driving?

Police must prove beyond reasonable doubt that drugs were present in your system at the time of testing. The primary evidence for this will be the saliva swab, and any subsequent laboratory tests.

The defence to drug driving include:

  • Consuming a drug without knowing it. This may occur if someone has put a drug in your food or drink without your knowledge.
  • A drug having been prescribed by a doctor.
  • Faulty testing equipment or a flawed testing process.

What do I do if I return a positive result?

If you returned a positive drug test over the Easter period, you should consult an experienced drug driving lawyer as soon as possible.

One of the issues with roadside drug testing is that drugs that may have consumed up to a week prior can be detected by the test. This means that you can return a positive result even if you haven’t used drugs at the time of, or for many days prior to, driving the vehicle. Further, the saliva tests do not measure the concentration of drugs. It simply detects whether a drug is present your body.

It is also possible to avoid a conviction or penalty even if you wish to plead guilty by informing the court of mitigating circumstances. In other words, anything that could explain the charge – including having taken drugs days before, rather than just before driving – your good driving record, any commitments that require you to have a driver’s licence, as well as good character references.

Specialist drug driving lawyers are highly skilled in presenting mitigating circumstances to the court and legal representation by an experienced drug lawyer can be of great benefit to you if you are charged.

Drug driving remains a serious issue because of the danger that it poses to the driver, as well as other motorists. However, the drug testing processes have their flaws, and defences are available. If you are concerned about your drug driving charge, contact an experienced drug driving lawyer as soon as possible.

Ugur Nedim About Ugur Nedim
Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Sydney’s Leading Firm of Criminal & Drug Defence Lawyers.

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