The ACT has a  zero tolerance approach to drug driving, like all other Australian states and territories.

The ACT Government is committed to the realisation of Vision Zero – a strategy outlined in the ACT Road Safety Strategy 2011-20 and the ACT Road Safety Action Plan 2016-2020, which aims to achieve zero road fatalities by 2020.

Driving with drugs in your system is incredibly dangerous and greatly affects your ability to be safe on our roads.

Drug driving remains a significant contributing factor in many serious and fatal crashes in the ACT.

The ACT drug driving regime currently makes it an offence to have any of the three prescribed drugs (cannabis, methamphetamine and ecstasy) in your system when driving. It is also an offence to have any other drug in your system to such an extent that it influences your ability to have proper control of a motor vehicle.

With roadside drug testing in force across the ACT, if you’re caught driving with drugs in your system, you could lose your licence and be looking at heavy fines or even jail time.

What are the dangers of drug driving?

There is a range of evidence linking drugs to elevated crash risk.  Drug use can slow down your reaction time, causing a distorted view of time and distance. Drugs can also stimulate your nervous system which can lead to a reduced attention span, and the sudden onset of fatigue as the stimulant effects wear off. Driving with drugs in your system can also cause you to make dangerous decisions, increasing the chance you’ll harm yourself, your passengers, or other road users.

Roadside drug testing

Roadside drug testing contributes greatly to improving road safety by deterring and removing drug affected drivers from ACT roads before their behaviour leads to death or serious injury. 

Roadside drug tests indicate the presence of THC (one of the active ingredients in cannabis), methamphetamine (speed and ice) and MDMA (often found in ecstasy).  Unlike alcohol, where there is a legal limit, having any trace of these drugs in your system while driving is an offence.  You can also face a number of serious penalties for drug driving offences including heavy fines, loss of licence and imprisonment.  

Drugs can stay in your system long after you take them, so you could test positive hours or even days after consumption.

To date, no major international or technological developments have been able to establish a causal link between specific levels of drugs and impairment, which can be applied across the population. This is different to alcohol where there has long been an agreed position on the levels at which alcohol impairs ones driving ability.

Given the quantity of active ingredients in a drug, are often unknown, and the difficulties in determining the quantities which are likely to impair the average driver, there are challenges in setting a prescribed ‘acceptable level’, in particular for cannabis. Further, the effect of the drug on individuals is influenced by many factors, including:

  • Concentration of the active ingredient
  • Possible interaction with other drugs
  • Method of consumption
  • Amount consumed
  • Individual characteristics of the person consuming, for example:
    • Age
    • Weight
    • Frequency of use

It is an offence to refuse to give a sample of breath or blood if requested. The maximum penalty for a first offence is a fine of 30 penalty units and imprisonment for six months.  The maximum penalty for a repeat offence is a fine of 30 penalty units and imprisonment for 12 months.

What are the penalties for drug driving in the ACT? 

The ACT has two drug driving offences:

  • The presence offence (section 20 of the Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1977) is predominately the offence associated with roadside drug testing and is currently limited to three prescribed drugs: cannabis (THC); speed and ice (methamphetamine); and ecstasy (MDMA). This offence does not require the prosecution to prove that the person was impaired as result of the presence of the drug.
  • The driving under the influence offence (section 24 of the Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1977): driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug. This offence requires more than just presence of a drug to be proven and is not limited to the three prescribed drugs. There are two elements to this offence: (1) the person was under the influence of liquor or drug (presence) (2) to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle. This offence covers both legal and illegal drugs, for example, methodone, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, heroin. 

A person driving with a prescribed drug (section 20) will be subject to a maximum fine of 10 penalty units and a 6 month minimum disqualification period (maximum disqualification period is 3 years) if a first offender. For a repeat offender, the penalties are a maximum court fine of 25 penalty units and/or six months imprisonment and a minimum disqualification period of 12 months (the maximum disqualification period is 5 years).

A person driving under the influence (section 24) will be subject to a maximum court fine of 30 penalty units and/or 6 months imprisonment and a 6 month minimum disqualification period (maximum disqualification period is 3 years) if a first offender. For a repeat offender, the penalties are a maximum court fine of 30 penalty units and/or twelve months imprisonment and a minimum disqualification period of 12 months (the maximum disqualification period is 5 years).

All drivers in the ACT convicted or found guilty of a drink or drug driving offence must complete an alcohol and drug awareness course prior to the end of the period of disqualification and before a restricted or probationary licence can be issued. More information on the alcohol and drug awareness course can be found here.

What will the new cannabis laws mean for the ACT’s drug driving laws?

No changes have been made to ACT’s drug driving laws, so if you’re caught driving with any cannabis in your system, you could face heavy fines, licence disqualification, and even imprisonment.   

There is no safe amount, and each person is affected differently by cannabis use. Cannabis affects your alertness, ability to concentrate and judge distances and coordination reaction time. These effects can last for many hours after taking cannabis. Detection time varies depending on the type of drug and amount taken, frequency of drug use and other factors specific to the individual. The best advice is that cannabis can typically be detected in a roadside oral fluid test for up to 12 hours after use, but this can be up to 30 hours for frequent users.

Health support

If you or someone you know is concerned about drugs or alcohol there are several treatment, support and information programs available in the ACT.  24/7 information and support is available through ACT Health’s Alcohol and Drug Services Intake Line – 02 6207 9977 (ask for the Alcohol and Drug Services when calling).  

The 24 Hour Intake Line is staffed by specialist alcohol and drug workers and provides:

For a full list of alcohol and drug programs in the ACT visit www.directory.atoda.org.au

Print materials

Drug driving brochure [PDF 2.2 MB]

Drug driving poster [PDF 1.5 MB]