Drug Driving FAQs

The following information is designed to answer any questions you may have about random roadside saliva testing and what is involved.

Note: Throughout this document and indeed under the Road Traffic Act 1961 the term “prescribed drugs” is used. This is a legal term and should not be confused with prescription drugs. Where the term “prescribed drugs” is used, it refers to THC (the active ingredient in cannabis), Methylamphetamine (also known as speed, ice or crystal meth) and MDMA (also known as ecstasy).

Who is required to take a random roadside saliva test?

Anyone who is operating or attempting to put a motor vehicle in motion may be required, by law, to undertake a random roadside saliva test for the recent consumption of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy). This includes a passenger acting as a ‘qualified supervising driver’ for a learner driver, as defined under the Motor Vehicles Act 1959.

Where is random roadside saliva testing conducted?

Similar to mobile random breath testing, drivers and riders may be stopped by a police officer at any time, anywhere in South Australia and tested for these three prescribed drugs as well as alcohol. This includes “high risk” areas such as truck routes and entertainment precincts.

Who is authorised to conduct random roadside saliva tests?

Only police officers who have been specially trained both in the use of saliva testing equipment and testing procedures are authorised to administer roadside saliva tests.

Which drugs can be detected by random roadside saliva tests?

Random roadside saliva tests can detect the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy). These are the three illegal drugs with the highest incidence, after alcohol, detected in the blood of fatally injured drivers and motorcycle riders in South Australia.

What effects do THC, Methylamphetamine and MDMA have on driving ability?

  • THC (cannabis) impairs mental functioning and reduces attention and concentration on the driving task. THC can affect driving even when there are no outward signs of impairment.
  • Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy) reduce coordination and affect a person’s ability to adjust speed and distance. It can also increase a person’s confidence so they are more likely to take dangerous risks while driving.

How long after consuming these three illegal drugs can they be detected?

  • The devices used are able to detect THC (active component in cannabis) for several hours after use. The exact time will vary depending on the amount and potency of the cannabis used and the individual metabolism. Inactive THC residue in the body of a driver from use in previous days or weeks will not be detected.
  • Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy) may be detected for approximately 24 hours after use. Again, the exact time will vary depending on the size of the dose, other drugs taken at the same time, as well as differences in individual metabolism.

Is THC from passive smoking able to be detected in saliva samples?

No. Experience to date has shown that the level of THC (cannabis) present in saliva as a result of passive smoking is considerably lower than the lowest level of THC able to be detected by the saliva testing devices.

Is it possible for other substances to mask the detection of THC, Methylamphetamine or MDMA?

No. There is no evidence to suggest that any substance will mask the detection of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) or MDMA (ecstasy), when using a saliva drug testing procedure.

Can random roadside saliva tests detect the presence of other illegal drugs?

No. Random roadside saliva testing is only used to detect the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy).

Drivers impaired by other drugs (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’.

This offence carries severe penalties and drivers may be fined up to $1,200 for a first offence, in addition to a period of licence disqualification, demerit points or even imprisonment in some cases.

Can random roadside saliva tests detect the presence of prescription drugs or other medication?

No. The saliva test only detects the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy). It does not detect the presence of prescription drugs or common over the counter medications, such as cold and flu tablets, sinus medication (e.g. Sudafed), asthma or ADHD medication.

However, drivers 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’.

This offence carries severe penalties and drivers may be fined up to $1,200 for a first offence, in addition to a period of licence disqualification, demerit points or even imprisonment in some cases.

If you are unsure about the side effects of your medication or any impact it may have on your driving ability, please consult your doctor.

Can prescription or common ‘over the counter’ medication affect driving ability?

There are a number of drugs (both legal and illegal) that have the potential to affect driving ability.  Some prescription medications also contain behaviour modifying drugs such as benzodiazepines, which can be found in valium, as well as antihistamine, commonly found in hay-fever tablets.

Always check the listed side effects and follow instructions regarding use.  If you are unsure about the side effects of your medication or any impact it may have on your driving ability, please consult your doctor or pharmacist.

What is saliva testing?

This is a non-invasive method for detecting the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy). Drivers are required to provide a saliva sample by placing a saliva test strip on their tongue. Drivers who test positive are required to provide an oral fluid sample for analysis in the drug bus or at a police station. A positive result to the second saliva sample will lead to further analysis in a laboratory.

Why are saliva samples used to test for drugs?

Saliva samples are used because they are less intrusive, are relatively easy to collect and can be screened using a quick and accurate method to detect the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy).

How long does a random roadside saliva test take?

A random roadside saliva test will take around five minutes. A driver who returns a positive result to the roadside saliva test will be required to provide an oral fluid sample for analysis in the drug bus or at a police station. In these circumstances, the entire process may take around 30 minutes.

How is random roadside saliva testing conducted?

Random roadside saliva tests are conducted in a similar way to current random breath tests for alcohol. Drivers will be required to complete a breath test for alcohol before undertaking a saliva test to detect for the presence of one or more of the three prescribed drugs.

Step 1
Drivers are required to undergo a drug screening test, while they remain in their vehicle, by placing a saliva test strip on their tongue. The sample is screened at the roadside and the result determined within approximately 5 minutes.

Step 2
Drivers who return a negative drug test are not detained any further. Drivers who return a positive test result are required to accompany police to a drug bus or police station to provide an oral fluid sample for analysis.

Step 3
Drivers who produce a positive result to the second sample will be interviewed according to standard police procedure and the sample sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Step 4
Once the process is complete the driver is allowed to leave, although they will not be permitted to drive their vehicle. No further action is taken by police until the results of the laboratory analysis are known. Drivers will be informed within a few weeks if the laboratory analysis confirms the presence of THC, Methylamphetamine or MDMA and accordingly, they will be issued with an expiation notice or prosecuted for an offence.

Note - Penalties apply to drivers who refuse or fail to undertake a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test when required to do so by a police officer.

How reliable is saliva testing for illegal drugs?

Saliva testing is an accurate and reliable method for detecting the recent consumption of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy). All roadside saliva drug screening devices are required to meet standards of accuracy.

A positive oral fluid sample result will be confirmed by laboratory testing before the police will take any further action (such as issuing an expiation notice or commencing a prosecution against the driver of the vehicle).

Are drivers required to leave their vehicle to undertake a random roadside saliva test?

A roadside saliva screening test may be conducted through the driver’s window, in a similar way to breath tests for alcohol. As with alcotests, a driver who returns a positive result to the initial saliva test will be required to leave their vehicle to accompany police for further testing (oral fluid analysis or blood test).

If a driver tests positive during a random roadside saliva test, are further tests required?

A driver who tests positive for a roadside saliva test is required to undertake either an oral fluid analysis or a blood test – which will then be sent off for laboratory analysis. Police will inform drivers within a few weeks of the results of the laboratory analysis.

Drivers will be given a part of the sample to have their own analysis done if they wish.

Before an expiation notice can be issued or charge laid, the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) or MDMA (ecstasy) will be confirmed by the laboratory analysis.

If the laboratory analysis confirms the presence of THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) or MDMA (ecstasy) police will issue an expiation notice or may prosecute the driver.

Drivers who return a negative saliva and alcohol test will not be detained further.

Are drivers who test positive for a random roadside saliva test allowed to drive before the results of the laboratory analysis are known?

A driver who tests positive for THC (cannabis), Methylamphetamine (speed) or MDMA (ecstasy) will be advised by police not to drive until the drug is no longer detectable in their system (up to 4 hours for THC and up to 24 hours for Methylamphetamine or MDMA).

If necessary, a police officer will assist in moving a driver’s vehicle to a place where the vehicle can be parked legally. If the driver has a passenger with them and wants the passenger to drive them home, a police officer may test the passenger before allowing them to drive away.

If a person is alone, police will endeavour to assist in arranging alternative transport. Similar procedures already apply in relation to testing for alcohol.

If they attempt to drive away they may be arrested on suspicion of attempting to drive with a prescribed drug in their oral fluid.

Under the legislation, police officers are provided with the power to direct a driver to leave their vehicle and not to drive any vehicle until permitted to so do by a police officer. A driver may be required to surrender their keys and the vehicle may be immobilised.

Can a driver refuse to undertake a random roadside saliva test?

A driver who is pulled over for a random roadside saliva test is legally required to undertake the test. Penalties apply to drivers who refuse to undertake a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test when required to do so by a police officer.

What if a driver is unable to provide a saliva sample?

A driver who is unable to provide a saliva sample because of a medical or physical condition may provide a blood sample instead. Blood samples will be conducted under appropriate medical supervision.

Can police request a blood test for drugs?

Yes. In certain circumstances the police may direct a driver to undergo a blood test. This includes situations where a driver cannot produce enough saliva for an oral fluid test, or they have a medical or physical reason which does not allow them to provide a saliva sample, or show obvious signs of being impaired. A blood test is conducted at no expense to the driver.

Are the evidentiary saliva and blood samples destroyed after a period of time?

Yes. Under the legislation all saliva and blood samples must be destroyed if proceedings for an offence have not commenced within the period allowed or when the prosecution proceedings (and any appeals) have concluded.

Are the saliva or blood samples collected used for DNA testing?

No. Saliva and blood samples collected cannot be used in DNA testing.

Can the saliva or blood samples be used as evidence for other offences relating to drug possession and use?

No. The legislation does not allow police to use the results of a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test or any admissions or evidence relating to these tests for anything other than proceedings against the Road Traffic Act 1961, the Motor Vehicles Act 1959 or other driving-related offences.

The drug driving legislation is about deterring people from driving with a prescribed drug in oral fluid or blood, thereby improving road safety.

Has there been a review of the legislation since it was first introduced?

Yes. The Road Traffic (Drug Driving) Amendment Act 2006, which came into operation on 1 July 2006, required that the legislation be reviewed after the first year of operation and a report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

The aim of the review was to assess the effectiveness of the legislation and its operation and to provide an opportunity to refine the legislation or identify further amendments.

An independent review was undertaken and placed before both Houses of Parliament on 25 October 2007.

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