Concern about drug use and its effect on road traffic safety is increasing globally. While the risks and consequences of alcohol in relation to traffic safety are rather well-researched, the deficiency of information regarding drug use in road traffic is evident. There is not a lot of information available on an international scale concerning the issue of using illegal substances while driving, the relation between concentration of drugs and the risk of a traffic accident, and also about legislative action and prevention of driving under the influence of illicit drugs.
Illicit drugs drastically reduce the ability to participate safely in traffic. The influence of drugs on the driving of an individual differs according to the substance, but they all affect the concentration, judgment and reaction time of the driver.
Illicit drugs are divided into 4 groups:
- 1. Depressors of the central nervous system
- Narcotic analgesics
- Tranquillisers – sedatives
- Hypnotics – sleep-inducing agents
- 2. Antiepileptics
- 3. Analeptics
- 4. Hallucinogens
- 5. Cannabis
In accordance with the severity of the health hazard which may result from their abuse, and how they are used, illicit drugs are classified into groups I, II and III:
- Group I: plants and substances posing a severe risk to human health due to the serious consequences their use may cause, and which are not used in medicine..
- Group II: plants and substances posing a severe risk due to the adverse consequences their use may cause and which are used in medicine..
- Group III: plants and substances posing a medium risk due to the consequences their abuse may cause and which can be used in medicine..
In 2016, 11 participants died in Slovenia in traffic accidents where the responsible person was under the influence of psychoactive substances and illicit drugs, 44 were severely injured, and 68 suffered minor injuries.
The Slovenian Traffic Safety Agency performed an investigation into the use of drugs among Slovenian drivers in 2016, and the results were a cause for concern. Almost every third person interviewed (27%) has taken illicit drugs. 8 % of participants have driven under the influence of drugs. The following drugs are most frequently used by Slovenian drivers: marijuana (89%), followed by cocaine (14%) and amphetamines (10%), then ecstasy (9%), magic mushrooms, LSD and sedatives – each with 7%, heroin (6 %), Valium (apaurin, diazepam) and crack (each 5%), and methadone (4%). Every third person who drove under the influence of drugs had done so regularly (three times a month or more often).
The procedure for identification of signs or symptoms which are the consequence of illicit drug use and other psychoactive substances in the body.
In accordance with Article 107 of the Road Traffic Rules act (hereinafter referred to as: ZPrCP), police officers must perform a procedure for identification of symptoms which are the consequence of such substances in the body before ordering an expert examination. The procedure may only be performed by trained police officers with suitable training certification.
Police officers will check the following during the procedure:
- Driving style (veering, insufficient safety distance, speeding, slow driving, trouble with stopping, non-reaction to traffic lights, etc.);
- Appearance (sweating, shivers, cold, sneezing, sniffing, cramps, pain, scratching, etc.);
- Mood (depressive, euphoric, etc.);
- Behaviour (calm, slow, tired, sleepy, lack of focus, apathetic, inaccessible, unapproachable, unable to talk, talkative, upset, angry, scared, violent, etc.);
- Other visible signs (accessories, visible injection wounds);
- Speech (clear, stuttering, unclear, senseless, colourless tone, etc.);
- Eyes (appearance – red, blurry, palpitations, orientation, pupils – size, reaction, etc.);
Quick test use
Na podlagi rezultata hitrega testa se policisti odločijo, ali bodo osebi odredili strokovni pregled z odvzemov vzorcev krvi in urina za analizo. Ne glede na rezultat hitrega testa, sta le rezultat analize vzorcev in mnenje zdravnika dokaz v nadaljnjem postopku.
Based on the result of the quick test, the officer will decide whether to request an expert examination by taking blood and urine samples for analysis. Regardless of the result of the quick test, the results of the sample analysis and the doctor’s opinion are the only evidence in the following procedures.
The quick test is performed by asking the person to hold a test paper on their tongue for five seconds until it turns red. The officer then places the sample into a test strip. The result can be seen in the window after no more than eight minutes. It is positive if the test line is coloured red.
The quick test is intended for determining the presence of the following drugs in saliva:
- Cannabis (Marijuana, Hashish, THC);
- Amphetamines, Methamphetamines, Ecstasy;
- Cocaine, Crack;
- OOpiates (Morphine, Heroin).
Expert examination sis performed at a medical institution, where the driver is taken by the police. Expert examination includes a medical examination to determine signs of behavioural issues which may cause unreliable actions in road traffic, and the taking of blood, urine or other samples of bodily fluids or tissues for determining the presence of alcohol, illicit drugs, psychoactive medication or other psychoactive substances which may affect safe participation in road traffic. The doctor must immediately prepare a written opinion about the examination, and the blood, urine, other bodily fluids or tissues are immediately sent to the nearest laboratory, where an analysis is performed. The laboratory must perform an analysis and inform the person who requested the expert examination within 15 days.
Drivers who do not comply with the request of the officer for an expert examination are fined a minimum amount of EUR 1,200 and receive 18 penalty points, which results in the termination of their driving licence if a judge so decides in normal proceedings. The same penalty applies for positive drug test results.
Drugs affect the EXPERIENCE OF REALITY: changes in emotions, behaviour and thinking. They affect mental and physical abilities, the detection and processing of information, and reduce body reactions. They can also cause cramps, shivers, nausea and aggression
As with alcohol, illicit drugs affect our capabilities for safe participation in traffic, detection, prediction and judgment and final execution of appropriate actions.
Drugs affect the driver by disrupting:
- Judgment of safety distance;
- Judgment of the speed of oncoming vehicles;
- Movement coordination;
- Concentration (attention);
- Judgment of situations.
Drugs also affect the participant by:
- Reducing self-criticism;
- Increasing willingness to take risks;
- Overestimating own capabilities;
- Extension of response time;
- Reduced field of vision.
The effect of most commonly used drugs among Slovenian drivers:
MARIJUANA – slows down reactions; reduces concentration, frequently has sedative effects; affects coordination; reduces the ability to track moving objects, indecisiveness, poor monitoring of speed and lateral distance or safety distance, ignoring traffic signs, overly cautious or slow driving.
COCAINE – the feeling of extreme confidence, unpredictable behaviour. After the climax: the feeling of being ill, sleepy, lack of concentration, paranoia, depression, sensitivity to light.
ECSTASY – fast heartbeat, the feeling of adrenaline, overconfidence and risky actions. After the climax: irritability, flashbacks etc. (similar to GHB, MDMA).
The fine for driving under the influence of drugs, psychoactive medication or other psychoactive substances is a minimum of EUR 1,200 and 18 penalty points. The driver usually remains in police custody and is forbidden to continue driving. Judicial proceedings take place in cases of violation where suspension of the driving licence can be issued (the penalty is 18 penalty points). The same applies for refusing an expert examination.
- Do not endanger your health and do not use illicit drugs!
- If you have taken illicit drugs, NEVER sit behind the wheel (or on a motorcycle, bicycle)!
- NEVER enter a vehicle when the driver is under the influence of illicit drugs!
- Make sure that your friends do not drive if they have taken drugs!
There are still some false beliefs floating around, such as:
- “I drive better if I am high, I am slower and therefore safer.”
The common argument is that weed makes drivers more careful, because they compensate for the negative effect of the drug by driving slowly. The truth is that the reaction time is additionally reduced compared to driving speed, and the resulting compensation attempts are not sufficient to stay safe. Traffic accidents occur suddenly and are not predictable. A slower reaction time means that you as the driver have far less chance of anticipating an accident and avoiding it.
- “Some illicit drugs do not affect driving.”
The conviction that soft drugs like marijuana are less dangerous or have a lesser effect on driving is false. All illicit drugs (cannabis, hash, speed, cocaine, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, etc.) affect the operation of the brain and significantly affect the ability to drive (exaggerated caution – speeding, not using a seatbelt, lack of consideration, overconfidence, incapability of controlling the speed, poor attention and judgment, concentration issues on the road, slow reaction time; sudden movement, poor physical coordination, nausea).
- “The police cannot determine if I am driving under the influence of drugs.”
The police can determine if you are driving under the influence of drugs and can act accordingly, regardless of the drug you have taken. Police officers perform a procedure for identifying signs or symptoms which are the consequence of drugs, psychoactive medication or other psychoactive substances in the body of the affected driver. Police officers may also request an expert examination.
- “Zero tolerance for alcohol applies to me as a young driver, but this does not apply to drugs.”
Drugs are completely unacceptable for drivers. If you are driving under the influence of drugs, the rules are identical to those regarding driving under the influence of alcohol (over 0.52 g/mg) – suspension or withdrawal of driving licence.
- “I can decline drug testing without suffering any consequences..”
You can decline an expert examination, but the fine is identical to driving under the influence of drugs (18 penalty points, fine of EUR 1,200, suspension of driving licence).
- “Prescription medication does not pose any danger for driving.”
Certain medications affect capability to handle vehicles or machines. The packaging of the medication has a red triangle which may be fully painted or have a red outline (which is why these medications are called “trigoniki” in Slovenia). ▲ …handling of vehicles and working with machines is forbidden! ∆ …handling of vehicles and working with machines is not advised! Before you start taking new medication, always ask your doctor or a pharmacist if and how a certain medicine affects the capability to handle vehicles and machines.
- “Since I am a regular pot smoker, I am used to it and police officers will not notice that I am high.”
Police officers are trained to identify “stoned” drivers by using the procedure for identifying signs or symptoms. Whether or not you are used to the drug does not affect the results of this testing. For example: using eye drops does not affect your abilities and will therefore not fool the police officer.
… learn about the consequences, do not be the victim of false beliefs!
Sebastjan Čuk, Deputy Head of Fire Department Shift in the Nova Gorica Fire Department unit:
We cannot prevent all traffic accidents, but we can definitely prevent those which occur due to alcohol or drugs. I think of this every time I face the horrific consequences caused by such drivers in traffic.
We only get one shot at life, respect it and do not waste it because of a moment of foolishness. If you think that you are a hero in a bar, you might quickly become a zero on the road.
Tomaž Tomaževic, Assistant Commander, Kranj Traffic Police Station
It is difficult to learn during the investigation that the person responsible was under the influence of drugs – especially if it resulted in the death of a young cyclist. It is known that drugs are only one of the factors that increase the possibility of an accident since the driver is not fully focused on driving because of their effect or they make them drive more aggressively and dangerously. When you experience such consequences of an accident – death – you simply do not want anyone to be driving under the influence of drugs. Death cannot be erased from the lives of relatives and persons responsible or from their and our memories. My work forces me to carry these memories with me, but you do not have to. Your life could be much better without drugs.
Gregor Vidrih, Emergency, MD:
The people injured in traffic accidents that are under the influence of illicit drugs pose a great problem for emergency services. The basic problem in the field is identification of drug abuse since the signs can be very similar to those of head injuries, of certain metabolic, mental, and other diseases. Such injured persons may be irresponsive, they can be unconscious, overly excited, hallucinating, they may be aggressive. During field care, the situation may change, which is a particular challenge for the rescue team. And the problem of rescue team safety should not be neglected either. Driving under the influence of drugs means conscious endangerment of ourselves and other participants in traffic. Do not allow yourself and your relatives to be marked for life!
Erika Medle Semec, Professor of German and English languages
We cannot deny it! Sadly, the use of drugs in the streets and in schools is widespread. Most high school students try drugs out of curiosity or the need to be accepted among their peers. The belief that students have it “under control” and can see the line where pleasure becomes an addiction is sadly wrong. That is why we must say NO to drugs!
Jan Brodar, Head of Fire Prevention, Koper Fire Brigade
We fire fighters witness different types of accidents. Technical interventions in traffic accidents are definitely among the hardest and most unpleasant ones. None of us feel good when we are called to help at the site of a traffic accident in the middle of the night or early in the morning. When we arrive at the scene and see mangled cars and the injured who sometimes moan, sometimes scream, and sometimes just lie there, we realise how thin the line between a crazy party and a tragic outcome really is. A couple of minutes before we arrived, those boys and girls were probably singing in the car and laughing, but the image is far from happy when we arrive. Alcohol and illicit drugs are often the cause of the accident. That is why I am asking all drivers, younger and older, to not use drugs or drink alcohol when they are on the road. No party is good enough to justify the sadness and tragedy which can be caused by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Gregor Kovačič, Student at Novo mesto Business School
Hi! I am Gregor Kovačič and I am 17 years old. I attend the Novo mesto Business School and I see a lot of people using drugs. Personally, I don’t have problems with these people, but I am afraid of what could happen to them or what they could do to me. So please, don’t be idiots and drive sober.
TI was also involved in a traffic accident caused by a drugged driver. “Only” material damage was done, but the person responsible did not even care about it. He seemed completely stoned when he got out of the car. I never saw him again after that incident.
Miha from Ljubljana
I see people smoking pot in front of our building every day. Sometimes I see some of them sitting in a car. I am afraid that I might cross paths with some of them on the road. It would probably not end well.
I have many friends who use some sort of drugs at parties. I know that many parties are in remote places so every time I wonder who the driver is. I am terrified to think that that person is one of them.
Tanja, 24, Medvode
After a party in one of the bars in Ljubljana, my friend and I took a taxi home. A group of three girls and two boys was walking in front of us. They were talking about how much they smoked, and they were not talking about cigarettes. I had a terrible feeling when I saw the older boy taking car keys from his pocket. Since I did not know them, I did not dare say anything. They drove away in a car, and my friend and I got in the taxi.