Drug driving: How different drugs affect driving skills

Drug driving: How different drugs affect driving skills

Much attention is given to drunk driving when it comes to road safety; however, another significant concern that demands the community’s awareness and understanding is the influence of various drugs on driving skills, better known as drug driving.

After all, it was recorded that around 3.4 million Australians have reported using illicit drugs in the past 12 months, with some of the most common being cannabis/marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and party drugs, including LSD.

In this blog post, we explore the different effects that some of the most popular drugs in Australia have on one’s driving abilities to help give viewers an idea of how dangerous driving under the influence of these substances can be.

Marijuana and driving

Like every other drug and alcohol, marijuana or cannabis impairs driving skills and coordination, slows down reaction time, and reduces one’s ability to make decisions. THC, the drug’s primary compound, which has psychoactive properties, is what mainly causes these impairments.

Driving under the influence of marijuana can cause the following:

  • Impaired coordination and motor skills
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Distorted perception of time and distance
  • Impaired judgements
  • Decreased concentration
  • Difficulty multitasking

The degree of impairment can vary based on factors such as the amount of THC consumed, the method of consumption and the individual’s tolerance level.

Cocaine and driving

Once ingested via snorting, rubbing on the gums or through an injection, the effects of cocaine are usually felt within 5 to 30 minutes, and its effects can last for as long as 30 to 40 minutes.

Cocaine causes feelings of overconfidence, euphoria, extreme happiness, impulsive decision-making, difficulty concentrating and a lack of judgement, among others.

The primary effects of cocaine when driving include the following:

  • Increased alertness
  • Overconfidence
  • Increased risk-taking behaviour
  • Increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure
  • Increased irritability and aggressiveness

Unlike marijuana which usually mellows down a person’s senses, drivers under the influence of cocaine may exhibit aggressive driving behaviours as a result of the risk-taking mentality that comes with the consumption of cocaine. Drivers will also be more irritable and aggressive, increasing the chances of road rage incidents.

Heroin and driving

Heroin’s main effect is sedation and drowsiness. When under the influence, heroin causes one to enter a profound state of sedation and drowsiness which will impair a person’s alertness, reaction time and responsiveness.

Common effects heroin can cause include:

  • Sedation, drowsiness
  • Slowed reactions
  • Compromised decision-making skills
  • Cognitive impairment
  • High risk of nodding off and falling asleep

The impact of heroin on driving is mainly characterised by sedation, slow reaction time, high risk of nodding off. Unlike cocaine which causes high levels of impulsivity and aggression, heroin poses different dangers on the road that could be fatal.

Ecstasy and driving

Ecstasy, which is the street name for MDMA, causes altered perceptions, distorted senses and difficulty processing visual and auditory information, which is an essential skill in assessing dangers when driving.

Ecstasy affects drivers in the following ways:

  • Altered perception and sensory distortion
  • Impaired coordination
  • Increased sensitivity to lights and sounds
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dehydration

The effects of driving under the influence of ecstasy are characterised by altered perceptions, impaired coordination and heightened sensitivity to lights, which is most definitely an issue, especially when driving at night.

LSD and driving

LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide, is a powerful and potent drug that induces vivid hallucinations and alters perceptions, making not just driving but any daily task a challenge as one’s responses and interpretations of reality are influenced by the drug’s effects.

Notable effects of the drugs include the following

  • Hallucinations
  • Distorted sense of time and space
  • Unpredictable emotional states
  • Flashbacks and prolonged effects
  • Impaired judgement

In a nutshell, LSD’s impact on driving is marked by impaired judgement, distorted perceptions, and hallucinations, the last of which poses unique challenges to driving compared to heroin, ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana. Being under the influence of any drug is not a reflection of responsible decision-making and safe driving.

Drunk driving

The risks of alcohol have been well documented, as seen in our resources library, which includes useful information including ‘What is a standard drink?’, ‘Drink driving penalties in Australia’, and many more.

Breathalysers being used to deter drink driving

Alcohol causes similar effects to many of the drugs listed above but also has some unique effects, which can be seen below

  • Impaired coordination
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Impaired judgements
  • Blurred vision
  • Compromised motor skills
  • Euphoria
  • Decreased inhibitions
  • Slurred speech

Is drug driving more dangerous than drunk driving?

Comparing the dangers of drink driving to drug driving involves considering several other factors, including the specific drug that was abused, its effects on the individual (taking into account individual tolerance levels), the circumstance of use, and the amount of substance consumed.

Both drink driving and drug driving present significant dangers, and the specific risks depend on the substance and amount of substance involved. It’s essential to understand that driving under the influence of any impairing substance is unsafe and illegal.

Responsible decision-making, public education, and enforcement efforts are essential components in addressing the risks associated with impaired driving, regardless of the substance involved.

Impairment levels

The level of impairment varies between alcohol and different drugs. While alcohol impairs coordination, reaction times, and judgement, different drugs may have this effect, while other drugs like hallucinogens, may cause hallucinations and altered perceptions, introducing different and unique risks.

Individual tolerance levels

Individual tolerance levels and sensitivity to drugs and alcohol vary from person to person. Some individuals may be more affected by alcohol, while others may experience heightened impairment symptoms with certain drugs. When it comes to alcohol, there are a number of factors that affect an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level.

LEARN MORE: Factors affecting BAC and alcohol intoxication levels

Combined use

Among one of the worst things a person can do, combining drugs with alcohol can exponentially increase impairment levels, increasing the risks of accidents and leading to unpredictable effects on driving skills.

Detect drug use with Andatech drug test kits

Andatech drug test kits and breathalysers play a crucial role in preventing drug and drunk driving incidents by providing individuals and authorities with reliable tools to assess impairment levels and enforce safety on the road.

Andatech offers both saliva and urine drug test kits that detect up to 15 different drug groups and alcohol with a single sample.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.

Written by Andatech Pty Ltd

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