What You Need to Know About Drug Driving Charges
Just like drink driving, drug driving can have devastating consequences. In a worst case scenario it can cause a catastrophic or fatal crash. And because it jeopardizes innocent lives, motorists who knowingly (or unknowingly) engage in this activity face harsh punishments when they are caught. Here’s what you should know about drug driving charges in Queensland.
Queensland’s drug driving laws
Under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995, there are two general classifications for drug driving offences in Queensland. The first is Driving Under the Influence of a Drug. The second category is Drug Driving (with Relevant Drug Present).
Driving under the influence of a drug
To charge a motorist with the former, police must have sufficient reason to believe that he or she is affected by one or more drugs while driving. In many cases, erratic driving such as swerving, speeding, or failing to obey traffic signs, alerts police that something is amiss. In others, police arrive at an accident scene to find a seemingly uninjured driver acting strangely. In either case, police rely upon experience, training and personal observations of a driver’s behaviour and appearance to determine that he or she is likely affected by drugs at the time. Blood tests may also be administered in an effort to confirm an officer’s suspicions.
In this context, it is important to note that it doesn’t matter whether you are under the influence of a legal (prescription or over the counter) or illegal drug while driving. A positive blood test coupled with other evidence will likely result in conviction.
Drug driving (relevant drug present)
As detailed in section 79(2AA) of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995, someone can be charged with this offence if they have drug residue in their blood or saliva.
In most cases, police use a roadside saliva swab test to detect the presence of drug residue. These tests are specifically designed to react with ingredients of certain drugs and immediately yield a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ result. If there is a positive finding, additional evaluation and assessment is generally done to confirm the presence of the active ingredients in marijuana, ecstasy, or speed/ice.
Having said that, police can test for the active ingredients in other illegal drugs. And although they don’t use field kits to detect ‘legal’ drugs, the detection of prescription medicines such as Methadone and Pethidine isn’t unheard of.
Therefore it is important to consult your physician or healthcare provider about how long any traces of prescription medicines will remain in your system and how the use of prescription medicine may affect your ability to drive before you get behind the wheel.
Doing so is especially important because drug driving with a relevant drug present is a strict liability offence. This means that there are minimum standards of proof required for the charge to ‘stick’. Police and prosecutors don’t even have to prove that the amount of drug residue found in the driver’s system meets or exceeds a certain threshold. In fact, the only real evidence required to secure a conviction is a positive test result.
Punishment upon conviction
In general, the types of punishment you may face upon conviction for these offences include:
- loss of driving privileges.
The severity of the punishment depends on a few factors, including your past convictions for other, unrelated traffic offences (if any); or prior convictions for the same offence you are now charged with.
Within this context, you should be aware that Section 187 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) gives a court the power to rescind your driving privileges for life if you are convicted of an offence connected with driving a vehicle. You should also be aware that this applies to first-time and repeat offenders, regardless of the mandatory disqualification period specified by law. However, a court can only impose a lifetime ban if it believes that doing so is ‘in the interests of justice’.
Something else to keep in mind regarding disqualification periods is that they must be served cumulatively, not concurrently. This means you must finish serving one before you start serving the other; you cannot serve both at once.
Punishment upon conviction for DUI-Drug
The range of punishments for DUI-Drug offences in Queensland are as follows:
First offence of DUI of a drug: If you haven’t been convicted of any major traffic offences in the past five years, you face up to nine months in jail and/or a fine of $3,298 (28 penalty units).
The court must disqualify you for at least six months, and can extend this period depending on the specific circumstances of your case.
Second offence of DUI of a drug: If this was your second significant traffic offence within the past five years, you face up to 18 months in jail and/or a fine of $7,068 (60 penalty units).
Upon conviction, the Court must disqualify you for at least one year, but may extend this period at its discretion.
Third or subsequent offence of DUI of a drug: If this was your third or subsequent major traffic offence within the past five years, you face up to 18 months in jail and/or a fine of $7,068 (60 penalty units). You will also lose your driving privileges for at least two years, but the court may increase this period at its discretion.
Punishment upon conviction for Driving With a Relevant Drug Present
The range of punishments upon conviction for Drug Driving – Relevant Drug Present are as follows:
First offence of Drive with Relevant Drug Present: If this was your first offence, you face up to three months imprisonment and/or a$1,649 fine (14 penalty units). You also face disqualification for at least one month.
Second offence of Drive with Relevant Drug Present: If this was your second offence within five years, you face up to six months in jail and/or a $2,356 fine (20 penalty units). You also face disqualification for at least three months.
Third (and subsequent) offence of Drive with Relevant Drug Present: For a third, and any subsequent, offence within five years, you face up to nine months in jail and/or a $3,298 fine (28 penalty units). You also face disqualification for at least six months.
You need an experienced lawyer to mount a successful defence
Clearly, these are very serious charges. If you are convicted, you will undoubtedly lose your driving privileges, spend time in jail, and end up paying some staggering fines. With the help of an experienced criminal lawyer, however, you may be able to avoid these penalties. Don’t leave anything to chance. Contact us to learn more about how we may be able to help you today.