According to a January 1, 2016 article published by The Australian online, Queensland police performed upwards of 33,000 roadside drug tests during 2015, which led to the subsequent arrests of more than 320 drugged drivers.
Although the concept of “drugged driving” is commonly associated with the consumption of illicit drugs, health experts and Government authorities are growing increasingly concerned about the often dismissed effects of prescription medications on Aussie motorists.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey reported more than 22 per cent of Australian drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter (OTC) medications during this period of time.
A 2007 report reflecting findings from Australian Drug Foundation-commissioned research, entitled, ‘Drugs and Driving in Australia,’ cited pharmaceutical medications, including benzodiazepines, antihistamines and antidepressants, contribute to road accidents and trauma.
Pharmaceutical medications can cause drowsiness, poor concentration, attention disturbances, cognitive-motor slowing and loss of consciousness among motorists.
The Australian Drug Foundation report argues various factors must be considered when addressing how legal pharmaceutical medications can impede driving skills, including:
- Variety of pharmaceutical prescriptions – The different types of pharmaceutical medications, doses available and how they impact road safety to various degrees;
- Benefits – When prescription medication is taken correctly, the medicinal benefits of pharmaceutical medications regarding their ability to improve driver competence; and
- Progression of treatment – Once a patient has developed a tolerance to their medication, their degree of impairment may reduce.
Roadside drug testing, including breath testing, saliva testing and a standard impairment assessment are all examples of law enforcement tactics targeting drivers using pharmaceutical medications that can influence road accidents.
While further research is required to determine the genuine impact of driving under the influence of pharmaceutical medications on Australian roads, it’s time Aussies began to grasp the link between their “legal” medications and “illegal” driving behaviour.