Drugs and driving — comparative legal study


With abuse of controlled drugs increasing, there is concern over the effects that this may have on the population. One of these effects is the possible reduction in ability to drive a motor vehicle safely on the public road, particularly when driving under the influence of narcotic or hallucinogenic substances. Although driving under the influence of alcohol is already established as an offence in all countries, drug abuse has not always been addressed before now. However, throughout the 90s there has been increasing research on this topic, by national and international bodies, to assess the prevalence rates, the effects, and various legal methods of controli. The public are equally concerned – the Eurobarometer survey of young people across Europe in Spring 2002 found that 79.4% of respondents agreed that police should test for drugs at the same time as alcohol.

As an example of prevalence, one literature review published in 1999, examining some thirty studies, estimated that in the general driving population the prevalence of illicit drug use would probably fall in the range of 1% - 5% (mainly cannabis and opiates), whereas licit drug use would fall in the range of 5% - 15% (mainly benzodiazepines); for drivers actually suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, the prevalence of illicit drug use was also lower than for licit drugsii. However, it should be noted that, as a literature review, the figures were taken from data that was not designed to be comparable.

Not wanting to repeat the excellent research already completed, this paper aims only to give a descriptive overview of the various legal mechanisms used to sanction this phenomenon in the EU and Norway – whether provisions exist in drug control laws or road traffic laws, the substances addressed, the status and levels of penalties, any levels of tolerance1, and whether drivers can be stopped for tests at any time or if the police require some form of suspicion beforehand. The study excludes provisions for driving or operating other forms of vehicles, such as rail, sea or air traffic.

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