Drug driving

Impairment due to alcohol and drugs is a major contributor to death and serious injury on South Australian roads.  

South Australia Police (SAPOL) conduct random roadside saliva testing to detect the presence of three illegal drugs including THC (the active component in cannabis); Methylamphetamine (also known as speed, ice or crystal meth; and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) – also known as ecstasy.

These types of drugs have been shown to have the potential to increase the risk of road crashes. Laboratory testing, driving simulators and ‘on road’ testing has shown that these drugs can impair performance on driving-related tasks including impaired coordination, muscle weakness, impaired reaction time, poor vision, an inability to judge distance and speed and distortions of time, place and space. 

Road crash facts

Between 2011 and 2015, an average of 22% of drivers and riders killed on South Australian roads who were tested for the presence of drugs, tested positive to THC, Methylamphetamine, MDMA or a combination of these drugs.

The number of drivers/riders killed in a road crash that tested positive to drugs has not decreased over the last five years with an average of 13 drivers/riders killed testing positive each year.

Read our fact sheet for more information on drug driving involvement in road crashes (PDF)

What the law says

Under the Road Traffic Act 1961, it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive a motor vehicle with THC, Methylamphetamine or MDMA present in your oral fluid or blood.

Unlike drink driving, where a prescribed concentration of alcohol must be present for an offence to have been committed, the presence of any amount of the drugs tested will constitute an offence.

Drivers and riders can be stopped at random by any police officer at any time anywhere in South Australia, and tested for the these drugs as well as alcohol.  This includes a passenger acting as qualified supervising driver for a learner driver. 

While the saliva test does not detect prescription or common over the counter medications such as cold and flu tablets, drivers who are impaired by other drugs (either prescription or illicit) will continue to be prosecuted under section 47 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 for the existing offence of driving under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or drug – commonly referred to as ‘DUI’.

Random roadside saliva tests are conducted to improve road safety. The legislation does not allow police to use the test results or admissions or evidence relating to the tests for anything other than driving-related offences.

It is an offence to refuse, or to fail to comply with, a request for a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test.

Read more about Random Roadside Saliva Testing

Severe penalties apply to drivers who commit drug driving offences. Penalties may include heavy fines, licence disqualification, demerit points, wheel clamping, impounding or forfeiture of a vehicle and even imprisonment in some cases.  

These penalties are designed to send a clear message to motorists about the severity of taking drugs and operating a motor vehicle and the dangers these drivers present to themselves and the safety of other road users.  The current penalty system uses graduated fines and licence sanctions depending on whether it is a person’s first, second or third offence.

Refer to the MyLicence website for more information on the drink and drug driving penalties that apply in South Australia.

Safe driving tips

Visit the MyLicence website for safe driving tips on how to avoid the risks of drink or drug driving.

Key strategies and actions

The Government of South Australia has a suite of measures – using a combination of regulation, enforcement and education – to address the unacceptable incidence of drug driving.

Random roadside saliva testing has been in operation in South Australia since 1 July 2006. Since that time, stronger penalties have also been introduced with higher fines and demerit points in place for drug drivers as well as the availability of wheel clamping, impounding and/or forfeiture of a vehicle for these offences.  For repeat offenders, the courts are now able to consider previous drink and drug driving offences during sentencing and these drivers may also face alcohol or drug dependency assessments before their licence may be re-issued.

Random drug testing has been expanded to include the areas of marine and rail safety with South Australia Police able to test vessel operators and crew members, as well as rail safety workers for prescribed drugs (including cannabis, speed and ecstasy) under the same conditions as drug testing for drivers and riders.  Blood samples may also be tested for alcohol and the three prescribed drugs for those who attend or are admitted to hospital as a result of a crash.

Research shows that effective deterrence relies on a visible level of enforcement activity to enhance the perception that the offender will be caught.

The Motor Accident Commission (MAC) leads comprehensive road safety marketing programs to support the reduction of road trauma. Campaigns are coordinated with enforcement and the implementation of new safety measures where appropriate, so that maximum benefits are obtained.

To further reduce the incidence of drug driving and to improve safety for all road users, the State Government has announced proposed new penalties for drug drivers.  More information available here.

Further information and/or assistance related to alcohol and other drugs

Contact Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1300 13 1340 or visit Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia for more information.

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) is a community focused organisation to help reduce the use of cannabis in Australia.
NCPIC Helpline 1800 30 40 50.

References and links

The Driver’s Handbook – Alcohol, Drugs, Medicines and Driving

Motor Accident Commission – Drug Driving Campaign

Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia

National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre

Note - This information is a guide only and should not be relied on for legal purposes. Full details of the offences and penalties relative to drug driving are contained in the Road Traffic Act 1961. For further information visit: www.legislation.sa.gov.au

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