Riding high: Increasing number of Belgians drive on drugs

Riding high: Increasing number of Belgians drive on drugs
Credit: Yana Moroz / Pexels

Motorists, beware: the number of Belgians who drive under the influence of drugs has risen significantly in recent years.

According to a recent study by the VIAS road safety institute which was reported on by La Dernière Heure (DH), 6,488 Belgian drivers tested positive for drugs during the first half of 2022, or roughly 35 every day — an almost threefold increase compared to the same period in 2014, when 2,382 drivers were caught with drugs in their system.

The study also found that almost one in ten (8%) Belgian motorists drive high at least once a month, while young people are particularly prone to getting behind the wheel while drug-impaired.

"[The] proportion increases to one in five young people (19%)," VIAS spokesperson Benoît Godart told DH. "And it's only been increasing in recent years."

High in demand

Marijuana is by far the most popular drug consumed by Belgian motorists. In 2021, Belgium's National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology (l’Institut National de Criminalistique et de Criminologie) reported that, among drivers who tested positive for drugs, 53% were found to have marijuana in their system, while 15% tested positive for cocaine, 10% for amphetamines, and 9% for both cannabis and cocaine.

Godart noted that each of these drugs impedes one's ability to drive safely, albeit in markedly different ways.

"Cannabis causes drowsiness, slows down the coordination of movements, lengthens the reaction time and decreases one's visual and auditory faculties," Godart explained. "Ecstasy, on the other hand, masks the feeling of fatigue and impairs mental abilities, gives the misleading impression that we are in control of ourselves and our driving, and promotes irrational behavior at the wheel."

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Cocaine, however, is indisputably the most dangerous drug to consume while behind the wheel: according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, cocaine-addled drivers are two to ten times more likely to crash their vehicle than a sober driver.

In Belgium, a driver under the influence of drugs faces a fine of up to €16,000, as well as the possible suspension of their licence of up to five years.

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