Almost one in seven young drivers drove under the influence of one or more drugs in the past month. Eight percent of Belgian motorists – 5% in Flanders and 8% in Wallonia – drive a car after using sleeping pills or tranquilizers at least once a month. In Brussels, the problem is even worse: 17% of drivers regularly combine driving and narcotics.
Last month, one out of seven motorists on average combined driving and drugs: 4% in Flanders, more than 6% in Wallonia, and even more than 11% in Brussels. The figures come from a survey the Vias traffic safety institute conducted among 6 000 Belgian road users.
Underestimated but worrying phenomenon
Drugs appear to be particularly popular among youngsters: 14% of those who got caught were between 18 and 34 years old; among the age group between 35 and 54, 4% drive after using illegal drugs at least once a month; in the category of 55+, it is less than 1%.
The combination of driving and substance abuse remains an underestimated but worrying phenomenon. And although the chance of being caught has quadrupled in the last ten years, driving under the influence of drugs remains a major problem in traffic.
Comparable to alcohol
Cannabis is the most common drug. Other frequent drugs are synthetic products like XTC, MDMA, amphetamines, and cocaine. Nitrous oxide, the so-called ‘laughing gas’, also remains popular, especially among young male drivers. Vias earlier called for an immediate ban on this product.
Inhaling nitrous gas immediately creates a short-lived euphoric intoxication comparable to the effects of alcohol. And the higher the dose, the more powerful the effects. Combining such substances with other narcotics (alcohol, sleeping pills, or tranquilizers) makes the use very dangerous. A bill is currently being discussed to prohibit the sale, transport, and possession of nitrous oxide in Belgium.
Most drugs are addictive and influence people’s brains. As a consequence, they can have a serious influence on one’s driving abilities. Depending on the substance used, the effects differ: cannabis mainly decreases your ability to react, so you will react less alertly in risky situations.
Cocaine and XTC, for instance, temporarily sharpen your ability to concentrate, but they also cause overconfidence among drivers. So as a result, they tend to drive much too fast and take risks.
Four times more chance to get caught
In 2013, 3 394 drivers were caught during a drug check. In the first half of 2022, 6 501 drivers landed in trouble. In the last ten years, the chance to get caught is multiplied by four.
Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo): “Driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous for yourself and other road users. It is one of the top three causes of traffic deaths, together with distraction behind the wheel and excessive speed.”
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