More than a fifth of motorists (22%) aged 17-34 believe it is okay to drive after using Class A drugs.

These are some of the results from new research published by IAM RoadSmart.

This is in stark contrast to just 4% of those over 70 and 5% of those aged between 50-69.

Worrying findings

The survey of 2,013 UK drivers contributed to IAM RoadSmart’s ‘2023 Road Safety Culture Report’,

Drivers of all ages were asked: ‘How acceptable do you personally feel it is for a driver to drive after using Class A drugs such as Cocaine and Ecstasy?’.

A concerning minority of 13% found it to be ‘acceptable’.

However, most drivers (87%) viewed the prospective behaviour as ‘unacceptable’.

Just as worrying was the finding that almost a third of motorists (30%) believe that people driving after using prescription drugs was only a minor threat or no threat to their personal safety on the roads.

This compares to 14% for those driving after taking illegal drugs.

All this highlights a misconception that some prescription drugs have no adverse effects on the ability to drive.

Concentration levels

The research also exposes significant differences of opinion on the acceptability of drug driving by annual mileage as well as by age.

A fifth (21%) of high mileage drivers (those travelling 10,000 miles a year or more) believe it is acceptable to drive after using Class A drugs such as Cocaine and Ecstasy.

It’s a statistic that hints that those undertaking long journeys frequently may use certain drugs under the misguided belief it might be helpful for their alert levels.

Youthful ignorance?

Previous IAM RoadSmart research found that almost a third of young drivers (32%) believe it is more common to drive under the influence of illegal drugs than it is to drink and drive.

While over two-thirds (69%) of this age group are likely to stop others under the influence from driving, it was found that over a quarter (26%) of young people know someone who drives under the influence of illegal drugs.

In reality terms, it could mean that up to nearly three-quarters of a million young drivers may have driven or been in a vehicle where the driver has been under the influence of illegal drugs.

New highs

Department for Transport (DfT)  data shows the number of drivers killed with ‘impairment drugs’ present in their system increased by over 60% from 2014 to 2021.

It represents a significant rise compared to illegal alcohol levels recorded over the same period.

Drink drivers killed remains a relatively stable number; however, testing for drug driving has become more common over the same period since the introduction of drug driving legislation.

While there is much focus on illegal drugs, the effects of prescription drugs should not be underestimated.

Drivers taking medication must ensure they are safe to drive while under the influence.

Prescribed medication includes amphetamines, clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine, oxazepam, and temazepam.

These substances, while legal when prescribed, can reduce reaction times and impair judgement.

It is illegal for motorists in Great Britain to get behind the wheel after taking prescribed drugs if it impairs driving.

Motorists caught and convicted of drug driving can receive a minimum 1-year driving ban, up to 6 months in prison, a criminal record, and an unlimited fine.

They will also see an endorsement issued to their licence lasting 11 years.

Time for action

“Using Class A substances before getting behind the wheel is an illegal and reckless practice that puts all road users at risk,” states IAM RoadSmart Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Manager William Porter.

“Our research has found that a concerning number of motorists – especially young drivers – view getting behind the wheel under the influence of illegal substances as being okay.”

Porter believes these findings should encourage police forces to take more action to educate and deter such actions.

He also calls on the government to “do their part to ensure resources are deployed”.

In particular, there should be a focus on “drug-driving rehabilitation courses”.

While this is part of the action against drunk driving, reoffending remains a serious problem still.

“The lesser spoken threat of drivers getting behind the wheel while on lawful prescription drugs also warrants greater attention from government,” adds Porter.

“Social acceptability of drink-driving took generations to change, and we must be clear that we will be as intolerant of drug-drivers as we are drink-drivers.”