Driving under the influence of drugs

Ash_Soni_0411by Ash Soni, Vice-Chair, English Pharmacy Board

Driving under the influence of drugs is an offence.  If you think this just means illegal drugs such as cannabis or cocaine, you’d be wrong.  The law doesn’t distinguish between illegal drugs and prescription medicines for genuine illnesses.

The  government is consulting  on plans to introduce a new offence of driving with a drug in the body, above a certain limit, to tackle the issue of drug-driving.

Public awareness around drink driving is high, but the potential for prescription and over-the-counter medicines to impair driving performance is not.  Your local high-street pharmacist can help you identify any problems your medicines might cause. 

So which medicines you might legitimately take could affect you?

The Government is proposing limits for eight drugs that have medical uses: clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine, oxazepam and temazepam.  Other medicines which can affect your driving include sleeping tablets, strong painkillers and some types of antihistamines, anti-depressants and cough and cold remedies as they can have a sedative effect.  Some medicines used to control epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and serious mental health problems can also affect driving performance. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list.  Medicines can have different effects on different people – some people will feel drowsier than others when taking common medicines. Other factors such as the combination of medicines you’re taking, the illness that is being treated and whether you have drunk alcohol can also mean you feel more drowsy than normal.  Even the time of the day or how often you take your medicine can make a difference. Just being unwell can cause tiredness and a slower response rate to traffic hazards.

In case you didn’t know, the law also requires you to tell the DVLA about any health condition you may have which may affect your ability to drive safely. If you are involved in an accident and it’s found that your health condition was a contributing factor, you may be prosecuted and your insurance may not be valid.

It’s every driver’s responsibility to ensure that they are safe to drive. If you are taking medicine, you must be sure that your ability to drive is not affected. The best way to find out if you are safe to drive is to get advice from a pharmacist.

Please come and speak to us about any medicine you are taking if you are concerned about your driving.  We’ll advise you which ones might be risking your safety. Don’t put it off.  Taking time to discuss your medicines with your pharmacist could save your life.