Drug driving: the effects and the penalties

If your eyes lit up the first time your instructor asked you to make sure you had the right gear, you may have misunderstood him.

You see, he wasn’t making any references to anything you may have had stashed in your pockets; he was simply making sure you were using the car’s controls correctly. One of the key reasons he wouldn’t have been asking you about your recreational drug habits is because they don’t really mix with driving – whatever your mates may tell you 

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t get caught when driving with drugs in your system

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t get caught when driving with drugs in your system, because not only can the police easily tell when you’re on a high, but the penalties are exactly the same as if you get caught over the alcohol limit.

If a driver is stopped because they’re suspected of having drugs in their system, they can be subjected to roadside tests which will quickly establish whether they’re doped up – or just a bit dopey.

Regardless of what those roadside tests show, a driver can still be subjected to breath and blood tests down the local nick. However, even without these, it’s possible for the police to prosecute – and for you to lose your licence – on the strength of the roadside tests.

Staying off the drugs isn’t just a good idea to keep your licence – and car – intact though. if you crash your car while high on illegal drugs, and you’re seriously injured, the first thing a paramedic will need to do is put a load of prescription drugs into your system.

What they don’t have time to do is test for all the illegal drugs that might already be in the bloodstream, so those life-saving drugs end up becoming ineffective – or even worse, causing more problems than they solve. So it’s a bit of a double whammy; take drugs and you’re more likely to crash your car. Then, when the ambulance turns up, those same drugs could prevent the crew from saving your life.

The penalties

Causing death by carelss driving when under the influence of drugs carries a maximum 14-year prison sentence, a minimum two-year driving ban and a requirement to pass an extended driving test. Just get caught driving after taking drugs and you face: 

  • A minimum 12-month driving ban.

  • A criminal record.

  • A fine of up to £5000.

  • Up to six months in prison.


Web watch

Want to know more about drugs and their effects? Then check out these sites: 

The drugs

Crystal meth 

Crystal meth (crystal methamphetamine) is a powerful stimulant that can be effective for 2-20 hours. Just some of its effects include:

  • Paranoia, aggressiveness and anxiety

  • Mood disturbance

  • Hallucinations and psychosis

  • Mixed with other drugs, the results can be devastating



Ecstasy is made up of a mixture of drugs; different tablets contain different amounts of the active ingredient MDMA, which has a huge influence on the nature and strength of the effects, which are: 

  • Increased sensitivity to surroundings

  • Sound, colour and emotions are more intense

  • An initial rush of nervousness, and uncertainty

  • Paranoia and confusion

  • Brain damage, potentially



Ketamine is an anaesthetic with painkilling and hallucinogenic properties which is intended to be used by vets as a sedative and anaesthetic. Take one of these and you can look forward to: 

  • Numbness and the effect of removing you from a sense of reality

  • Out of body experiences, hallucinations and temporary paralysis

  • Serious breathing problems, unconsciousness or heart failure



Cannabis is a relaxant; just a bit of this with a small amount of alcohol will magnify the effects. The most intense effects last at least 2-4 hours. It causes: 

  • Slower reaction times and sleepiness.

  • Distorted perception, reduced concentration and forgetfulness.

  • Impaired coordination and blurred vision.



Cocaine is a stimulant of the mind which may make you feel very alert for about an hour. During this time you may react inappropriately, then as the effect wears off the danger of falling asleep is high. Combining cocaine with alcohol or other drugs can produce unexpected and dangerous effects. It causes: 

  • Over confidence leading to increased risk taking.

  • Distorted perception.

  • Erratic behaviour and paranoia.

  • Enlarged pupils.

  • Auditory hallucinations.