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Driving under the influence of drugs

Drugs and driving

If you take drugs and drive you may have to go to court. You may also be breaking the law even if you don't drive. For example, if you have taken drugs and you are the person 'in charge' of a vehicle.

If you drive a vehicle or are in charge of a vehicle while you are under the influence of drugs, whether they are illegal drugs, drugs you can buy over the counter (including alcohol) or drugs your doctor has prescribed, you are breaking the law.

Just like with drink driving, the law allows the police to pull you over at any time for a random drug test. The police do this by getting a saliva sample from you. At the moment, the only drugs the saliva test will detect are cannabis, MDMA (ecstasy) and methylamphetamine (ICE). If you drive or are in charge of a vehicle with cannabis, ecstasy or ICE in your saliva or blood you are breaking the law. The police don’t have to prove that having the drug in your system means you can’t drive safely or that you are driving less safely. It’s a bit like if you have a licence that requires your blood alcohol level (BAC) to be zero, you drive after drinking and you are under .05 but over zero. With drugs (at the moment cannabis, ecstasy or ICE) if you’re not “zero” you’re breaking the law. The Government may increase the types of drugs that can be detected by the random tests at any time.

As well as the random drug tests, the law allows the police to make you have a blood test if they reasonably suspect that you have been driving or have been in charge of a motor vehicle while you were under the influence of any drug, including the drugs mentioned above. Being under the influence of a drug means that your ability to drive safely is lessened because of the effects of the drug. If you are charged with driving under the influence of drugs, this is a more serious charge than a charge of just having a particular drug in your blood or saliva.

I don't take illegal drugs, but sometimes I take prescription/over the counter drugs. I'm not breaking the law if I drive, am I?

Yes, if you are what the law calls under the influence of drugs.

If you drive under the influence of alcohol, the police use a breathalyser to find out if you have any alcohol in your system and if you are 'over the limit' that the law allows. The police can pull you over for a random breath test at any time even if you are not driving badly.

At present, the random saliva tests will not pick up any prescription or over the counter drugs that you have taken. The police can make you have a blood test, under certain circumstances, which will detect drugs in prescription and over the counter medications.

I'm going to court for driving under the influence of drugs. What will happen?

As with drink driving, if you are convicted of a 'drug driving offence' (including being under the influence in charge of a vehicle, failing to provide a blood specimen, or driving with particular drugs in your saliva or blood), you will always be disqualified from holding or obtaining a Queensland driver's licence for at a period of time. The court has no choice.

You should hand in your driver's licence at the court as it is cancelled then and there. To keep a cancelled driver's licence is an offence.

You will not be eligible to apply for a work licence if you are convicted of the more serious offence of driving or being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of a drug. You may be able to apply for a work licence if you are convicted of the lesser offence of having a drug in your saliva or blood while driving or in charge of a vehicle. Not everyone will be eligible so you should get legal advice about this.

As well as the licence disqualification, you are likely to be fined, given a community service order or jailed.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you

  • have been charged with a drug driving offence
  • want to contest a drug driving charge
  • need to know your prospects of success in appealing a decision of a Magistrate about the disqualification period
  • have more questions about applying for a work licence for drug driving.

Important: before seeking legal advice you must have a copy of your traffic history to show the lawyer - this is available from a Department of Transport and Main Roads Customer Service Centre by filling in a form and paying a fee. You should also apply for your QP9 before seeing a lawyer - contact your local police/police prosecutions office to find out how.

Get legal advice

Legal Aid Queensland may provide legal advice on drug driving. Our Traffic Clinic provides specialist legal advice if you are contesting a drug driving charge.

The services below may also be able to provide you with legal advice.

Community legal centres may provide preliminary legal advice on drug driving matters - check with individual CLCs whether they will advise on your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

The following organisations may be able to help you. They do not provide legal advice.

Queensland Traffic Offenders Program (QTOP) is an educational court diversion program for first and second time offenders who want to plead guilty to a traffic offence, including drink driving, unsafe driving, disqualified driving, suspended licence, appealing licence disqualifications (fees apply for this service).

Department of Transport and Main Roads deals with complaints and enquiries concerning drivers licence, registration, traffic fines, etc.

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