Inquiry Into Effect of Drugs on Road Safety

Written by on February 4, 2020


Report Introduction

Chairman’s Preface

This Report concludes the Inquiry into the effects of drugs (other than alcohol) on road safety in Victoria. It identifies how drugs reduce a person’s capacity to perform safely all of the driving functions and proposes new methods for dealing with impaired drivers.

Drug abuse remains a scourge. It affects every level of our society and no one is immune from the threat of being killed or injured in a crash involving a drug-impaired driver. When drugs are taken and the person drives the likelihood of becoming a road toll statistic increases dramatically.

Victoria’s relative success in reducing the involvement of alcohol in road crashes has now highlighted the involvement of drugs in crashes. The Committee was disturbed by the results of coronial inquiries which reveal that drugs are present in about one quarter of Victorian driver fatalities, a level comparable to that of alcohol. The extent to which drug presence contributed to such crashes is not clear and similar studies are needed of injured drivers.

Scientific evidence shows many drugs can affect driver performance and such drugs are present in what appear to be an abnormal proportion of Victorian driver fatalities. Estimates of the magnitude of the problem range as high as one eighth of the road toll. Significant countermeasures are needed.

The subject is complex as driver impairment can be due to prescription or over- the-counter medications, illegal drugs, abuse of substances such as butane or from stimulants used to try to combat driver fatigue. Combinations of drugs, especially with alcohol, can accentuate impairment. Consequently a multi-faceted approach is necessary ranging from measures aimed at adolescent drivers through to guidance in the use of medications. The use of stimulant drugs in the road transport industry has also been addressed.

The Committee has developed a range of countermeasures encompassing prevention, detection, action and research. Fundamental to the recommendations is the notion of driver impairment. There is no current scientific agreement on ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ levels for drugs when people drive.

The Committee consulted widely with road safety organisations in Victoria, other Australian jurisdictions and relevant overseas authorities. This process examined Australian and overseas driver impairment testing techniques from which the Committee developed a proposal which provides for systematic police observations of impairment firstly at the roadside and later, where necessary, in a controlled indoor environment. The tests proposed are more extensive than currently used elsewhere in Australia but less intense than required in parts of the United States. To provide additional legal protection for drivers the Committee recommends that the second impairment test be video recorded.

Some of the countermeasures may seem hard-hitting but the situation requires a very definite response from Government. The Committee’s objective is to save lives.

At the same time care has been taken to preserve the delicate balance between police discretion and citizens’ rights.

In the report on Demerit Points in November 1994 I mentioned that while Victoria has been a world leader with many road safety innovations the Committee was concerned that we are behind international best practice in gaining value from road safety related information databases. The current inquiry has again revealed difficulties in extracting and correlating data held by Victorian agencies. The Committee’s recommendations emphasise the importance of co-ordinated information databases for scientific research, countermeasure development and monitoring implementation effectiveness.

I would like to thank all those who so readily co-operated with the Committee.

I also thank my Deputy Chairman Mr David Cunningham MP and the Committee members for their work in this Inquiry.

Finally I thank the Committee staff – Executive Officers Mr Geoff Westcott and Mr Barry Aitken, Senior Research Officer Mr Graeme Both and Office Manager Mrs Lois Grogan and consultants Associate Professor Geoffrey Bentley and Mr Gerald Mayhead for their professionalism and dedication.

John I. Richardson, MP

II Executive Summary

A Community Issue

Victoria has a long established history of reviewing road safety. The Road Safety Committee of the Parliament has operated in a variety of forms since 1967 and its reports have led to ground-breaking legislation such as the mandatory wearing of seat belts, the 0.05 per cent limit in blood-alcohol concentration and random breath testing.

For decades Victorian governments have given significant attention to establishing effective drink-driving countermeasures. This focus on alcohol has tended to mask the involvement of drugs in road crashes. As road safety countermeasures, particularly against drink-driving and speeding, have become more successful drug-driving has become more apparent.

The presence of potentially impairing drugs in dead and injured drivers is unacceptably high. Available research has shown that a quarter of all fatalities had drugs in their bodies and it is now known that drivers who consume drugs alone or with alcohol have a higher risk of being in a fatal crash than drivers who are drug free.

The cost of the road toll attributed to road crashes where drugs alone or when mixed with alcohol were present was $143 million in 1993 or one-eighth of the State’s road toll according to VicRoads. In 1993 the average cost in Australia of a road fatality was $752,400, a hospital injury $113,100, a medical injury $11,900 and property damage $5,000 according to the Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics. What these figures cannot show is the pain and suffering to individuals, families and friends.

Growing concern among police, coroners and road safety organisations about the use of both legal and illegal drugs contributed to the establishment of this Inquiry in 1994 and the Premier’s Drug Advisory Council in 1995.

Drugs of all types are widely used in Victoria as they are in other comparable Western communities. Some such as alcohol are purely recreational, some are medications for the ill or elderly and some are illegal drugs or substances of abuse.

In most instances drugs are not required for a person to drive a motor vehicle safely. Whether they are used for medicinal or illegal purposes they can impair a person’s ability to drive safely.

In Victoria, the Road Safety Act 1986 forbids the driving of motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs and gives Victoria Police authority to remove incapable drivers from the road. The Act does not give police authority to require blood or urine samples from drivers suspected of being impaired.

National and International Overview

The Committee conducted inspections in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States. Information was obtained from other European nations and several legislatures in the United States as well as Canada, New Zealand and all States and Territories of Australia.

Research and government action to address some aspects of drugs and road safety was under way in some countries but the Committee did not discover any co-ordinated approach to the issues. A national approach to the issue in Australia is required. The Committee found that in Australia each State is at present focusing on its own drug-driving problems rather than developing a national program. One of the Committee’s recommendations is to seek co-operation between the States particularly in the study of fatal crashes.

The Committee was impressed by the New South Wales Drug-Driving Task Force as it used a task force approach to develop policy and co-ordinate the delivery of its recommendations.

Drugs and Driving

Research has not been able to establish confidently for other drugs the point at which a particular drug makes a driver unsafe on the road. Scientists disagree on what driving-related tasks are important to road safety or even how experiments should be conducted.

No internationally agreed testing procedures exist for measuring the effect of drugs on driver performance. The Committee recommends that Australia’s Federal Office of Road Safety seek the development of international scientific guidelines.

Drugs and Road Safety

In Victoria drugs of most concern are amphetamines and other stimulants, benzodiazepines (minor tranquillisers) and cannabis.

Victoria’s success in reducing the involvement of alcohol in fatal crashes from nearly 50 per cent in the late 1970s to 23 per cent in 1995 has highlighted the involvement of drugs. The presence of drugs other than alcohol in dead Victorian drivers is increasing. Limited data available to the Committee indicated that the incidence of drugs in drivers killed is now comparable to the incidence of alcohol. However the extent to which drug presence contributed to the crashes was not clear.

It was argued before the Committee that drugs were more likely to cause crashes where urgent decisions were required leading to increased numbers of injuries in traffic incidents.

No information is maintained in Victoria on drugs found in drivers injured in crashes and blood samples routinely collected in hospitals are not analysed for drugs. There is no central collection of evidence of possible drug involvement in injury crashes. The Committee is therefore recommending establishment of a database to maintain information from police, hospitals and coroners on drugs involved in road crashes.

While the possible combinations of drugs, alcohol and their effects on road users are vast and unpredictable a new strategy using a common message to prevent and deter people from driving while impaired is required.

Driver Impairment

The basis for the Committee’s recommendations is the notion of impairment.

The Committee has rejected the restrictive and proscriptive guidelines of ‘driving under the influence of drugs’ in the current Road Safety Act in favour of ‘driving while impaired’. It has adopted this approach because evidence has shown that science is yet to establish categorical levels for drugs and substances in the body that determine when drivers become an unacceptable risk on the road. The Committee recommends that the Act be amended.

The Committee’s proposal for police action is based on observation of the behaviour of drivers rather than on the issue of consumption of a particular drug. Impairment is a reduced ability to perform adequately the various elements of the driving task. It can be caused by health or physical conditions, fatigue, psychological conditions, distraction or inappropriate consumption of alcohol, drugs or other substances.

Drivers observed to be impaired would be removed from the road even if they had consumed relatively small, even therapeutic, doses of a drug. Where police had reasonable cause to suspect, after two impairment assessment tests, that impairment was drug-related they would take blood and urine samples to confirm their observations if they intend to proceed to prosecution. The Committee recommends that the taking of body fluids be authorised.

Managing Driver Impairment

The Committee found that standardised impairment testing is not widely practised in Australia and there is none in Victoria. The Committee concentrated on the United States as the major user of such a testing program.

The program was developed in the 1970s by the Los Angeles Police Department. It is a standardised, systematic method of observing and examining drivers suspected of being impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

Police are trained as drug recognition experts to recognise behaviours and physiological conditions associated with seven categories of drugs. The program has been widely evaluated for its accuracy and is now used in many American States.

However the Committee found that such an intensive level of police training would not be justified for Victoria. It also found that the judicial environment in the United States differs so much from Victoria that their legislative and testing requirements were not readily transferable.

The Committee proposes adoption of an Impaired Driving Detection Procedure based on a modification of the Los Angeles Model. It does not contain elements such as the darkroom eye examinations and measurements of blood pressure, body temperature and pulse rate. The Procedure proposed is more extensive than the procedures being used in New South Wales as it requires a second systematic set of observations to be conducted indoors by a more highly trained police officer.

When police suspect a driver of impairment they would require the driver to stop and undertake a standard breathalyser test. If the breathalyser shows that the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is within legal limits but the police officer suspects impairment the driver could be required to leave the vehicle and undertake a roadside impairment assessment test. Failure of this test is the precursor to the second or standard impairment assessment test.

The standard impairment assessment test would determine whether impairment was due to drugs or another cause, such as ill-health, medication or age. Failure of the second assessment will require the police to determine if the prosecution is to proceed. If the case is to proceed a qualified person shall obtain blood and/or urine samples from the driver for analysis to identify any drug(s) present.

The Committee is recommending that the Procedure be devised by a specialist working party of experts including a public advocate and that the impairment testing proposal and the taking of blood and urine samples from drivers be authorised by amendment of the Road Traffic Act. The legislation would also require the video recording of the second test to protect the rights of drivers and ensure that police followed procedures.


The Committee has built upon the Procedure by developing and recommending further countermeasures designed to create an overall strategy of prevention detection, action and research. The Committee’s recommendations include:



  • Deterrence publicity.
  • Publicity and education particularly of adolescents and drug users at risk, such as the elderly and drivers of commercial vehicles.
  • Training of medical, nursing and pharmacy students and medical, nursing and pharmaceutical workers on the effects of drugs on driver performance.
  • A requirement for pharmaceutical manufacturers, doctors and pharmacists to advise consumers on drugs and their effects.
  • Labelling of medications with text and symbols to warn of their effects on driving skills when taken with alcohol.
  • A requirement that all drivers of commercial vehicles be free of any impairing drug beyond a prescribed dosage.
  • The principle apply that where a fine is imposed on a driver found to be impaired while in charge of a commercial vehicle the same fine shall be imposed on the employer.
  • Training and retraining of Victoria Police on the Procedure.
  • Education of magistrates, prosecutors and the legal profession.
  • A central database of all records of impairment and laboratory tests.
  • Providing for the establishment of procedures for the recovery of a licence suspended or cancelled due to driver impairment.
  • Support for a national strategy for research to guide government policy.
    To implement the proposals of the Committee and the countermeasures it has developed a widely representative task force similar to the New South Wales Drug-Driving Task Force must be established.The task force should include health, law, police, transport, pharmaceutical authorities and a public advocate with a brief to develop policies and strategies and monitor their implementation.The Committee has recommended that a further review be conducted during the life of the next Parliament.III Recommendations

    Chapter 4. Drugs and Driver Performance
    1. That the Federal Office of Road Safety be urged to seek the development of international scientific guidelines, procedures and methods of comparison for the conduct of drug impairment experiments on driving performance.

    Chapter 5. Drugs and Road Safety
    2. That Victorian crash fatality studies be continued and the co-operation of other Australian States be encouraged so as to increase sample sizes.
    3. That an investigation into the role of drugs in injury crashes be undertaken to define which driver groups are users of illegal and medicinal drugs so as to provide guidance in developing countermeasures.
    4. That information on the type and amount of illegal and medicinal drugs found in deceased or injured persons obtained by police, coronial services and public hospitals be held in a single database managed by VicRoads to determine the frequency and cause of driver impairment.

    Chapter 6. Driver Impairment
    5. That the offence of driving under the influence of a drug be replaced by the offence of driving while impaired.
    6. That the Road Traffic Act 1986 be amended to incorporate a generic definition of a drug based on the legislative models found in Queensland and California.

    Chapter 7. Managing Driver Impairment
    7. That the Road Traffic Act 1986 be amended to give Victoria Police specific power to require drivers suspected of being impaired to undergo a roadside test of impairment and if necessary a second more detailed test.
    8. That a specialist working party determine the components of the test procedures.
    9. That where a driver fails the second impairment test and Police conclude that the impairment may be drug-related and prosecution is contemplated a sample of blood and/or urine shall be provided and analysed for drugs.

    Chapter 8. Countermeasures to Driver Impairment
    10. That an integrated campaign of information and education be provided to each sector of the driving community from the adolescent pre-driver through to the older motorist highlighting the risks of driver impairment due to drugs.
    11. That publicity emphasise that combinations of drugs, or drugs mixed with alcohol, increase the risks of injury or death in a crash.
    12. That emphasis on the effects of drugs on driver performance and road safety be incorporated in driver training curriculums and materials and licence testing procedures.
    13. That pharmaceutical manufacturers be required to advise the Federal Government of the drugs and the dosages that may impair driver performance so that Australian police forces can be advised of the potential levels of impairment and to enable the medical profession and patients to make a decision on other medicinal alternatives.
    14. That a Code of Practice and associated publicity campaign be developed for pharmaceutical manufacturers, doctors and pharmacists to advise patients on the possible effects on driver performance of drugs they are producing, prescribing and dispensing.
    15. That a climate be created which encourages patients to accept personal responsibility for seeking information from their doctors or pharmacists about the driver-impairing effects of prescribed medication.
    16. That the symbols of a motor vehicle and a wine glass in red circles with red diagonal slashes be affixed to all medications that may impair driving particularly if consumed with alcohol.
    17. That manufacturers affix the warning labels to their products prior to distribution to pharmacists.
    18. That warning labels remain clearly visible and not be covered or removed by pharmacists.
    19. That training courses and information on the effects of drugs on driver performance and road safety continue to be developed and provided to qualified and student medical, nursing and pharmacy professionals.
    20. That any person who drives a commercial vehicle under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1986 be free of any drug or substance of impairment beyond a prescribed dosage.
    21. The principle apply that when a fine is imposed on a driver found to be impaired while in charge of a commercial vehicle the same fine shall be imposed upon the employer.
    22. That fatigue management programs in the road transport industry be supported to eradicate the abuse of stimulant drugs taken to combat driver fatigue.
    23. That proposed driver impairment assessment legislation and police training be supported by publicity which stresses impaired drivers will be detected, tested and where appropriate, penalised.
    24. That a specialist working party headed by Victoria Police develop the education, training, accreditation, operating procedures and data recording methods required under the Impaired Driving Detection Procedure.
    25. That a public advocate be a member of the specialist working party.
    26. That police be trained to conduct roadside driver impairment tests and presentation of evidence in court.
    27. That police officers trained in the application of the Standard Impairment Assessment test be located at every 24 hour police station.
    28. That overseas experience with the Drug Recognition Expert procedures be monitored to determine whether elements need to be included in Victorian procedures.
    29. That all drivers suspected of being impaired be recorded by video camera when undergoing the Standard Impairment Assessment test.
    30. That a central database be maintained by VicRoads to record the results of all police observations, driver impairment tests conducted in the field and at a police station, chemical testing of blood and urine and any subsequent action taken for instances of suspected driver impairment not due to alcohol.
    31. That the identity of a person suspected of driver impairment be held in confidence by the Victoria Police and not be included in a central database unless convicted.
    32. That standard analytical methods, quality control procedures and performance targets be set for the screening of urine and blood samples for drugs at police and forensic laboratories.
    33. That computerised techniques for the testing of blood samples presently being developed be supported to ensure prompt delivery of test results.
    34. That police be authorised to require driver impairment tests and body fluid samples from any driver involved in a crash where the police have reasonable cause to suspect drug-related impairment.
    35. That blood and urine samples must be taken by a suitably qualified person.
    36. That the Task Force headed by VicRoads establish procedures for the recovery of a licence suspended or cancelled due to driver impairment.
    37. That research be undertaken on groups of impaired drivers, their attitudes and lifestyle patterns to guide the development of countermeasures.
    38. That a national research strategy on drugs and road safety be encouraged to guide the conduct of future investigations, assessment and data recording methods.
    39. That specific attention be given to research into the effects of combinations of drugs, including alcohol, on driver performance and their involvement in road crashes.
    40. That the Government establish a Task Force led by VicRoads of road safety, health, justice, police, pharmaceutical, motoring and transport organisations and a public advocate to establish priorities, co-ordinate activities, oversee the work of specialist working groups and monitor implementation of a plan to address the effects of drugs other than alcohol on road safety in Victoria.
    41. That the Committee review the issue during the term of the 54th Parliament.

    Committee Office
    11 November 1996

    IV Introduction

    The Road Safety Committee
    The Victorian Road Safety Committee is constituted under the Parliamentary Committees Act 1968, as amended.

    The Committee comprises nine members of the Parliament drawn from both Houses and all parties. The Chairman is elected by the Committee.

    Section 4EE describes the functions of the Committee as:-

    The functions of the Road Safety Committee are to inquire into, consider and report to the Parliament on any proposal, matter or thing concerned with road trauma or safety on roads and related matters, if the Committee is required or permitted to do so by or under this Act.

    Committee Address

    The Chairman
    Road Safety Committee
    35 Spring Street
    MELBOURNE 3000
    Telephone:- Australia: (03) 9651 3500 International: 61 3 9651 3500
    Facsimile:- Australia: (03) 9651 3691 International: 61 3 9651 3691
    E Mail Address:
    Internet Address: full description of the work of the Committee and the Victorian Parliamentary system is provided in Appendix Three.Committee Membership
    Mr John I. Richardson, MP Chairman
    Mr David J. Cunningham, MP Deputy Chairman
    The Hon. Ian M. J. Baker, MP
    The Hon. Ronald A. Best, MLC
    The Hon. Burwyn E. Davidson, MLC (until 5 March 1996)
    Mr Craig A. C. Langdon, MP
    Mr. F. Peter McLellan, MP
    The Hon. Brian W. Mier, MLC (until 5 March 1996)
    The Hon. E. Graeme Stoney, MLC
    The Hon. Douglas T. Walpole, MLC
    The Hon. Sue deC. Wilding, JP, MLCStaff

    Mr Geoffrey Westcott Executive Officer (until 22 March 1996)
    Mr Barry Aitken Executive Officer (from 13 May 1996)
    Mr Graeme Both Senior Research Officer
    Mrs Lois Grogan Office Manager
    Mr Gerald Mayhead Editorial Consultant
    Honorary Associate Professor Geoffrey Bentley, PhD, DSc. Scientific ConsultantTerms of Reference

    On 25 October 1994, the Road Safety Committee was requested by the then Minister for Roads and Ports, The Hon. W. R. Baxter, MLC, to conduct an Inquiry under the following terms of reference: –Pursuant to Section 4F(1) of the Parliamentary Committees Act 1968, His Excellency the Governor in Council refers the following matter to the Parliamentary Road Safety Committee:To inquire into and make recommendations upon the risks associated with driving after consumption of drugs (other than alcohol), having regard to road safety, social and economic issues, and in particular to –

    1. Report on the incidence and road safety risks associated with drug (other than alcohol) use in Victoria.

    2. Report on the health, social and economic costs of such drug use in relation to road safety.

    3. Report on methods of detection and measurement of drug (other than alcohol) use by drivers.

    4. Report on methods for measuring driving impairment and crash risk of drivers who have consumed drugs (other than alcohol).

    5. Report on evidence which could be admissible in determining legal sanctions against drivers who have consumed drugs (other than alcohol).

    6. Report on the status and effectiveness of drug driving countermeasures, including legislation, operating in other States of Australia and other comparable overseas jurisdictions.

    7. Report on ways to reduce crash risk associated with driving which is impaired by the consumption of drugs (other than alcohol) in Victoria, including the roles of research, information campaigns, public education and legislation.

    The 52nd Parliament was dissolved on 5 March 1996 before the Road Safety Committee had made its final report and the reference lapsed.

    The Committee resolved at its first meeting after the opening of the 53rd Parliament to seek the continuation of the reference. On 30 May 1996 the Minister for Roads and Ports, the Hon. G. R. Craige, MLC, reissued the above terms of reference to the Committee.

    The Methodology of the Review
    The review methodology allowed the Committee to consider the seven terms of reference collectively rather than on an individual basis.

    The issue of drugs and road safety is complex, and interwoven with social and philosophical issues on the use of substances that, if used incorrectly, can become drugs of addiction and impair a person’s capacity to undertake normal tasks such as the effective operation of a motor vehicle. The Report has been drafted to reflect this complex interrelationship with specific mention of the terms of reference only when required.

    Members of the Committee became fully acquainted with the issues, terms of reference and the areas of particular concern through an extensive national and international research and discussion program. Advice was constantly sought from leading experts on road safety and the effects of drugs on driving performance.

    This is the Committee’s second and final report. Because of the complex and controversial nature of the Inquiry the Committee first commissioned background papers.

    Thirteen papers on various aspects of the effects of drugs other than alcohol on road safety were prepared by eminent persons and practitioners in day-to-day contact with the issues. The purpose of the papers was to provide a focus, a stimulus and catalyst for public and professional participation in the Inquiry methodology.

    The collected papers constitute the First Report of the Committee, tabled in the Parliament on 24 May 1995.

    Following the release of the First Report the Committee invited submissions from interested groups and members of the public.

    Seventy submissions were received. Thirteen submissions were from overseas countries, 24 from government agencies, 23 from non-government agencies and 10 from individuals.

    Seventy witnesses gave evidence to the Committee at hearings held in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart.

    The individuals and organisations who made submissions and those who appeared before the Committee are listed as Appendices One and Two.

    The Committee recognised early in the Inquiry that its Report must reflect international experience and an overseas inspection program was conducted in July 1995. Information was sought from representatives of police, road safety and academic authorities in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Discussions with Canadian researchers were also held when the Committee was in Washington, DC.

    During the Inquiry the tri-annual International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety (ICADTS) was held in Adelaide in August 1995. Representatives of the Committee attended the conference and met with policy makers and leading figures in international research on the issues before the Committee.

    The Committee believes that its review methodology has produced recommendations which reinforce the need for the State to consider new management strategies for those who consume drugs inappropriately and drive. The recommendations cover a broad spectrum of countermeasures.

    * * * *

    Report Structure

    The Report has been designed in two volumes to address the needs of the broad readership base. Both volumes will be available in the traditional bound paper format and in the electronic medium on the Internet.

    Volume One
    Volume One contains the Report of the Committee, the evidence put before it, its deliberations and findings.

    Volume Two
    Volume Two contains detailed evidence and research data that builds on the information that has been cited in Volume One.

    Information Segments
    In Volume One where the Committee believes that further information may be of interest to readers an IS or Information Segment number appears. These numbers appear in a numerical sequence in Volume Two to indicate the additional information that may be of relevance and interest to a smaller number of readers from the road safety or scientific field.

    An example is IS 3.4. IS means an Information Segment is available with the number 3 indicating the chapter and the number 4identifying that it is the fourth consecutive reference for the chapter.

    The Committee’s Internet address is:

    Definitions and Terms
    Throughout the Report ‘drivers’ means both operators of motor vehicles and riders of motorcycles but not pillion passengers. Where there is a distinction between these two categories of vehicle operators it is mentioned in the text.

    For consistency of style the Committee uses ‘cannabis’ rather than ‘marijuana’ in the Report except when directly quoting evidence or reproducing tables using ‘marijuana’.

    For simplicity the Committee uses ‘drugs’ to mean ‘drugs other than alcohol’. Wherever a reference to drugs includes alcohol it is specifically mentioned.



11th November 1998

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