The advice is simple: Do Not Drive whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Find out how drink and drugs affect your driving ability and what you can do to ensure that you stay safe on the road.

What are the risks of drink or drug driving?

Whether you are caught driving whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the results will be the same. Depending on local law and the levels of drink or drugs found, you could face:

  • An accident leading to injury or even death
  • Living with the guilt of having caused injury or death to others
  • The loss of your job
  • A prison sentence
  • A criminal record
  • A large fine
  • The loss of your driving licence, resulting in a complete change in lifestyle because you lose your independence 
  • An increase in insurance premiums or difficulty in obtaining insurance
  • The need to successfully complete another driving test to acquire a licence.

Stay drug and alcohol free

To minimise risks, the straight-forward advice is to refrain from driving after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

If you must drink, make sure you are aware of the guidelines that are in place and stay strictly within the limits. Plan your journey - if you intend to drink, make alternative travel arrangements for the return trip with a colleague, friend or use a taxi.  If you spontaneously have a drink, then stay within limits or seek a lift home. Be vigilant with others too; by challenging a friend or colleague’s ability to drive, you could save lives.

As alcohol is for recreational purposes only, it is relatively simple to abstain or monitor your intake.

Drug driving is more complex as legislation, drugs tests and police training are less well-established.

Drug Driving

Whether drugs are prescribed, purchased over-the-counter or illegal, the physical effects can result in:

  • Erratic or aggressive behaviour
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Tremors 
  • Dizziness

A driver at risk of suffering from any of these conditions and in charge of a vehicle is at high risk of causing an accident.

Prescribed drugs

If you are on prescribed medication, read the packaging carefully to find out what the potential side effects are. Ask your doctor if it is safe to drive and monitor your reaction to the drugs. If in doubt, seek further medical advice and avoid driving if there is any chance that your driving ability will be affected.

Every drug has different side effects but be aware that anti-anxiety drugs will generally slow your reaction time and dull your alertness whilst stimulants will encourage risk-taking and hinder your ability to safely judge distances.

Recreational Drugs

Illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines are used for ‘recreational’ purposes and their use is on the increase. Studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 4-14% of drivers who were injured or died in a road traffic accident tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.1

In addition the police face an additional challenge. Through the theft of prescription pads, fraudulent changing of prescriptions or ‘double-doctoring’ (seeing more than one doctor for the same reason), there is a significant increase in the use of prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. A survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2007 screened 5,900 night-time drivers around the US and they found that 16.3 percent tested positive for legal or illegal drugs.

Drug driving may be more difficult to legislate against but police officers are now being trained to detect drug driving and there are an increasing number of prosecutions.


The greatest challenge facing any driver is being aware of your personal limits. Even if you stay below recommended levels, there is a strong chance that you may test positive. Everyone processes alcohol differently so what works for some, will not necessarily apply to others. It will depend on your age, weight, sex and your metabolism so the best advice remains to not drink and drive at all.

Remember that alcohol will stay in your system so be sure that it is safe to drive the next day. It’s even possible to buy kits to test whether it’s safe to get back behind the wheel. In some countries, for example in France, it’s compulsory to carry a personal breathalyser in your vehicle.

The best protection is prevention: Be drug free, be alcohol free, be safe.


National Institute on Drug Abuse

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