Over the New Year period you may have read reports of a new study examining the phenomenon of drug driving. It looked at a group of injecting drug users (IDUs) and came up with some alarming findings. Eighty-three percent of the sample reported driving soon after using drugs. The most common drugs identified were cannabis and heroin. In the previous 12 months, 22 percent reported having driven soon after using heroin on at least a weekly basis, with a similar number reporting the same behaviour after cannabis use.

Talk-back radio went wild over this story with the shock jocks outraged how these people could be let loose on the road. One of the greatest concerns was that their behaviour was not only affecting the drug user. Drug driving appeared to be a growing public health issue with one-third of this sample reported having had an accident while drug driving. Interestingly, alcohol was regarded as the most dangerous substance in terms of driving performance by this group -“ with far smaller numbers reporting they had been drink driving in the previous year. Anecdotal information from young people report similar findings -“ there is a perception that drug driving is not as bad as drink driving.

Unfortunately we know that this behaviour does not only restrict itself to IDUs. It would appear that an increasing number of clubbers are getting behind the wheel of a car after a big night out, believing that their driving ability is not impaired. Let’s clear this up: people usually take drugs to change where they’re at, thus altering their perception, awareness and reaction time. Driving after taking drugs or drink driving is an illegal activity and can severely impair your performance on the road and can be the difference between life and death.

Some people mistakenly believe that stimulant drugs like ecstasy and crystal can have a positive effect on your driving as they make you more alert. Being wired on amphetamines can cause you to over-react when driving and your decision-making skills can be adversely affected. The implications for driving under the influence of other drugs like Special K and G go without saying. Getting behind the wheel of a car after a big night, even though you think you have fully recovered, is simply not worth it. That’s what taxis are for.

This is one part of a far larger community problem: the belief that drug driving is somehow not as problematic as drink driving. The reality is that we should not be trying to compare one with the other -“ both are risky behaviours and both can cause lives to be lost either to the driver, the passenger or other people on the road.

In July of this year the Victorian police will begin roadside drug testing. The saliva test will be able to detect drugs such as amphetamine and cannabis. They will have a zero tolerance to these drugs -“ meaning that if you get a positive test you will be charged. This is not a test for impairment; it is being used to disrupt particular behaviour, i.e. taking drugs and then getting behind a wheel of a car. It will be interesting to see whether other states and territories adopt the technology at a later date and what impact this will have on the behaviour of clubbers around Australia.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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