In this research area we conduct studies to investigate the impact of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs on activities such as driving and how we can detect driving impairment. We utilise an advanced driving simulator, various ocular monitoring technologies, and a suite of cognitive assessments. We’ve previously examined the effects of MDMA, amphetamines, cannabis alone and in combination with alcohol upon driving performance. Our research has been supported by the ARC, NHMRC, Victoria Police, and VicRoads in collaboration with industry and academic partners.

Pioneering research at Swinburne’s Drugs and Driving Research Unit (DDRU) in the early 2000s demonstrated scientifically the impact of drugs on driver performance, motor vehicle accidents, injury and death. The research also provided evidence that saliva tests could sensitively and reliably detect selected drugs in drivers and that the saliva testing equipment was suitable for roadside field use. The DDRU is now led by Associate Professor Luke Downey whose team aims to conduct high-quality and translatable research in the field of driving impairment detection.

Our studies

This study investigates whether medicinal cannabis products that contain delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be detected (present or absent) in saliva using roadside saliva drug testing equipment (Securetec Drugwipe® TWIN), and if so, for how long.

We will also look at how much THC is present in saliva, blood and urine, and assess driving and cognitive performance before and after using these products.

Participants can be aged 21 and over, have a current (valid) prescription for a medicinal cannabis product that contains THC, and have a full driver's licence (no ‘P’ plates; recently expired licence is acceptable).  

Participants will be asked to attend Swinburne University for a seven-hour testing session. During the testing session, participants will consume their prescription medication as prescribed. They will be reimbursed for their time and travel expenses at the completion of the session.


The MCD team

This project will examine how an acute single dose of Methylphenidate (Ritalin® 10mg) affects visual attention, subjective mood assessments and driving performance. Participants can be aged between 21 and 40 years old, in good health and have a current (valid) full driver's licence (no ‘P’ plates).

Participants will be asked to attend Swinburne University on three separate occasions:

  • one screening session for a maximum of 1.5 hours
  • two testing sessions (one week apart) for three hours each.

In each testing session, participants will receive either Methylphenidate (Ritalin® 10mg) or a placebo only. They will be reimbursed for their time and travel for their participation in the study.


The Ritalin® team

This study is examining the effects of the combined effects of alcohol and prescription benzodiazepines on driving performance and related cognitive processes. Participants can be aged between 21 and 40 years old and in good health. 

Participants will be asked to attend Swinburne University on five separate occasions:

  • one screening session for a maximum of 1.5 hours
  • four testing sessions, one week apart, for three hours each.

In each testing session participants will receive either alprazolam (1mg) and alcohol (0.04% BAC), alprazolam and a placebo, alcohol and a placebo, or a placebo only. They will be reimbursed for their time and travel with a $50 Coles Myer voucher at the completion of each testing session.


Blair Aitken

This trial aims to assess the direct effect of combined usage of low (legal) doses of alcohol combined with d-methamphetamine on:

  • higher order cognitive function and neurobehavioral functioning
  • driving performance
  • ocular activity

You may be eligible to participate if you:

  • are aged 21–40
  • are a non-smoker
  • have a full drivers licence
  • have used amphetamines in the past
  • have no pre-existing medical conditions

Note: Additional eligibility criteria may apply to participate in this study.

Participation will involve attending the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology on five separate occasions: 

  • one screening session for approximately 1.5 hours
  • four testing sessions, one week apart, for three hours each.

Participants will be reimbursed for their time and travel expenses upon completion of the study.


Dr Amie Hayley

View Amie's profile

+61 3 9214 5585

Downey, L. A., et al. (2013). "The effects of cannabis and alcohol on simulated driving: Influences of dose and experience." Accident Analysis and Prevention 50: 879-886.
Hayley, A. C., et al. (2018). "The acute and residual effects of escalating, analgesic-range doses of ketamine on driving performance: A simulator study." Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 86: 83-88.
Stough, C., et al. (2012). "The acute effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine and methamphetamine on driving: A simulator study." Accident Analysis and Prevention 45: 493-497.

How drugs effect driving in the real-world

Hayley, A.C., Hart, C.L., O'Malley, K.Y., Stough, C.K.K., Downey, L.A. Risky driving behaviours among stimulant drug users and the role of aggression: findings from a national survey. (2019) Addiction, 114 (12), pp. 2187-2196.
Hayley, A. C., et al. (2016). "Amphetamine-type stimulant use and the risk of injury or death as a result of a road-traffic accident: A systematic review of observational studies." European Neuropsychopharmacology 26(6): 901-922.
Downey, L. A., et al. (2017). "Asleep at the Wheel: Concerning Driving after Co-Consumption of Alcohol and Benzodiazepines." Current Drug Abuse Reviews 10(1): 4-5.
Hayley, A. C., et al. (2015). "The Green Light on Ketamine: Considerations for On-Road Safety." Current Drug Abuse Reviews 8(1): 1-2.
Ocular Monitoring
Shiferaw, B. A., et al. (2018). "Stationary gaze entropy predicts lane departure events in sleep-deprived drivers." Scientific Reports 8(1): 2220.
Jackson, M. L., et al. (2016). "The utility of automated measures of ocular metrics for detecting driver drowsiness during extended wakefulness." Accident Analysis and Prevention 87: 127-133.
Shiferaw, B., et al. (2019). "Gaze entropy measures reveal alcohol-induced visual scanning impairment during ascending and descending phases of intoxication." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 80(2): 236-244.

Roadside Sobriety Testing

Downey, L. A., et al. (2016). "The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and measures of cognitive functioning." Accident Analysis and Prevention 86: 90-98.
Downey, L. A., et al. (2012). "Detecting impairment associated with cannabis with and without alcohol on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests." Psychopharmacology 224(4): 581-589.
Downey, L. A., et al. (2012). "Examining the effect of dl-3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and methamphetamine on the standardized field sobriety tests." Forensic Science International 220(1-3): e33-e36.

Saliva testing

Hayley, A.C., Green, M., Keane, M., Kostakis, P., Shehabi, Y., Stough, C.K.K., Downey, L.A. Accuracy of the Securetec DrugWipe 6s Ketamine device in detecting acute and residual salivary ketamine following a stepwise intravenous treatment protocol (2020) Journal of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, 53 (1), pp. 1-12.
Hayley, A. C., et al. (2018). "Detection of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in oral fluid, blood and urine following oral consumption of low-content THC hemp oil." Forensic Science International 284: 101-106.

Our research in the media

  • PSNI announce new powers to randomly stop drivers and perform drink driving breathalyser tests, Northern Ireland.

    BAC explained: Everything you need to know

    Dr Sarah Benson, a post-doctoral research fellow at our Centre who has been involved in a range of clinical trials assessing the neurocognitive effects of alcohol, explains all things BAC, standard drinks and breathalyser myths.
    Friday 06 December 2019

Explore our other research programs

Contact the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology

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