Drug Driving – Road Traffic Act, 2016

Early in 2017, a number of provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 2016 were commenced. These introduced a new scheme of criminal offences relating to drug driving.

Previously, for a conviction for drug driving, the prosecution had to prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:

1 – that the driver was driving or attempting to drive in a public place while under the influence of an intoxicant or drug.

2 – Critically, they also had to prove that as a result of their intoxication, they were incapable of controlling their vehicle. 

Updated Position

Since the enactment of the Road Traffic Act, 2016, there are a number of new “strict liability offences”. This means that where the presence of certain levels of heroin, cocaine or cannabis is detected within three hours of driving, the State is no longer required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver’s ability to control their vehicle was actually affected as a result. This is similar to the current laws on drink driving.  For other drugs and intoxicants not being cannabis, heroin or cocaine, the state must still prove that the driver’s ability to control the vehicle was actually adversely affected.

Under the new Act, The Garda­ can now require a driver to provide a sample of saliva to be analysed. Failure or refusal to do so is itself a criminal offence.

Where a sample is provided, it is analysed for the presence of drugs.  If the result indicates the presence of drugs, the driver will then be arrested and brought to a Garda station for the purpose of a Doctor taking a blood sample.  Failure or refusal to permit a doctor to take a blood sample also constitutes a separate offence that carries a minimum driving ban of four years on conviction

Where a blood sample is provided, it is then divided into two separate containers and sealed.  The driver will be offered to take one of the specimens for independent testing if they so choose.  The remaining sample will be sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to test for both the presence and concentration of drugs in the driver’s system.

Concentration Levels

The new drug driving offences concern five separate categories of drug molecule.  If any of those molecules are detected upon testing by the Bureau at a level of concentration above what is set out in the below table, and the sample of blood was taken by the Doctor within three hours of driving, the driver will be guilty of an offence.




Level (in blood)


1 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis) 1ng/ml
2 11-nor-9-carboxy-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis) 5ng/ml
3 Cocaine 10ng/ml
4 Benzoylecgonine (Cocaine) 50ng/ml
5 6-Acetylmorphine (Heroin) 5ng/ml


On conviction, a driver faces a minimum period of disqualification of one year. However, the judge has the discretion to disqualify for a longer period if they feel it is justified in the particular circumstances. The Court may also impose a fine of up to 5,000euro and or a prison term not exceeding six months.




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