After alcohol, cannabis and benzodiazepines are the psychoactive substances most prevalent among the driving population in Europe, according to a Selected issue on 'Drugs and driving', published alongside the 2007 Annual report. This finding appears consistent whatever the study type (e.g. roadside tests at random or on suspicion, in hospitals, post-mortem). Studies are equally divided as to which of the two drugs is the more prevalent.
Experimental studies (e.g. performance tests) show that use of cannabis and benzodiazepines results in impaired driving ability, varying according to dose, tolerance and delay after intake. And risk assessment studies show that combining these drugs with alcohol significantly increases the risk of being involved in, or responsible for, a traffic accident.
Countries have reacted at the highest level to the possible harms posed by psychoactive drugs and driving, states the review. Many countries have tightened laws, increased penalties or have altered national strategies (e.g. road safety and drug strategies) to address the problem.
'Zero tolerance' laws for illicit drugs such as cannabis have been introduced in Belgium, Portugal and Sweden (1999) and France and Finland (2003). The Swedish and Finnish laws also apply to certain medicines consumed without a lawful medical prescription. Penalties for the offence have increased since 2000 in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Latvia and Lithuania. Laws and penalties still vary widely across Europe.
Countries have reacted at the highest level to the possible harms posed by drugs and driving
Detection procedures (set down by law, regulation or guidelines) are broadly comparable in Europe. While these generally comprise observations and behavioural tests, followed by urine or blood samples, differences occur in the location of the tests (e.g. roadside, medical centre) and the person executing them (e.g. traffic police, doctor). Since the late 1990s, the majority of EU countries have carried out mass media campaigns informing on the health risks of substance use and driving, but they tend to deal primarily with alcohol. Only around a fifth of EU countries target cannabis and benzodiazepines specifically.
Cannabis-using drivers are more likely to be young males, while benzodiazepine-using drivers are more likely to be middle-aged and often female. Research suggests that, one-size-fits-all' campaigns may not be the most suitable. Older benzodiazepine users will often ignore messages aimed at young cannabis users and vice versa, and neither will feel that warnings about alcohol apply to them.
Drugnet Europe is the EMCDDA's newsletter launched in September 1996. The newsletter provides regular and succint information on the Centre's projects and activities to a broad readership.