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How do amphetamine-type stimulants affect driving?

Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are stimulant drugs. They speed up the messages going between the brain and the body. 

This group of drugs includes both prescription medicines, and some illegal substances, including speed, ice, methamphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine and some pharmaceuticals (e.g. Dexamphetamine® and Ritalin®).

The following information refers to the use of illegally produced methamphetamines.

If you are using an amphetamine-type stimulant prescribed by a doctor, see Medications and safe driving. You should also discuss the effects of the drug with your doctor.

What can influence the effects?

The effects of any drug (including amphetamines) vary from person to person. How amphetamines affect a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it. The effects of amphetamines, as with any drug, also depend on the amount taken.

There is no safe level of amphetamine use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Driving difficulties

It is difficult to predict exactly, in what way and for how long, amphetamine-stimulants will affect the ability to drive safely.

As a general guide, amphetamine-type stimulants can cause:

  • Lapses of attention
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty reacting appropriately to safely control a vehicle
  • Aggressive, dangerous driving
  • Increased risk taking
  • Overconfidence in driving skills
  • Drowsiness or rebound fatigue (as the effects wear off)

 

'Come down' effects (exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, irritability and depression) after using amphetamine-type stimulants may also impair driving ability.

A person who has been using amphetamine-type stimulants may think that if they are especially careful they will be able to drive safely. However, the drug may have affected their view and experience of reality. Their actions and responses may be quite different to what is actually needed, but they may be unaware of how much their driving skills have been affected.

As a rough guide, the devices in Victoria's random roadside saliva testing can detect methamphetamines for approximately a day or more after the last use.

Find out more about roadside drug testing

Safer driving tips

The effects of amphetamine-type stimulants may last up to 12 hours, and the 'come down' effects, like exhaustion, mood swings and depression may continue for longer. If you intend using amphetamine-type stimulants, the safest option is not to drive.

If you have used amphetamine-type stimulants, make sure that you have had several hours of sleep after your last use. At first, amphetamine-type stimulants may make you feel alert, but as they wear off, and you 'come down', you may start to feel exhausted and fall asleep. 

Find more information for drivers

Last updated: 7 June 2016

Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit www.DrugInfo.ADF.org.au for more