Revealed: the prescription medications that could see you prosecuted for drug-driving

Revealed: the prescription medications that could see you prosecuted for drug-driving
Revealed: the prescription medications that could see you prosecuted for drug-driving

As summer approaches a road safety body has warned drivers to check their medication carefully before getting behind the wheel.

GEM Motoring Assist has highlighted that some hay fever treatments can have an adverse effect on drivers’ abilities and driving while taking them could expose motorists to prosecution.

While some antihistamines can land you in trouble due to their effects on your driving there are other, regularly prescribed, drugs whose mere presence in your blood could be see you arrested, fined and even jailed.

Legal limits

Until 2015 you could only be prosecuted for drug-driving if police could prove your driving was impaired by your use of legal medication or illegal drugs. Since then, in England and Wales it has been illegal to have more than a set level of various controlled drugs in your blood.

There are nine prescription and eight illegal substances with explicitly stated thresholds.

The limits for illegal substances, including cannabis, cocaine and ketamine, are extremely low, with a small margin to rule out accidental exposure such as passive smoking.

Illegal drug thresholds

Illegal drug limits

For prescription drugs they vary depending on their ability to impair a driver’s ability and cover substances such as diazepam, morphine, methadone and temazepam.

Prescription drug thresholds

prescription drug limits

There is no guidance on what dosage would put drivers over the limits as individuals’ physical characteristics, their metabolism, diet and even water intake can affect the blood concentration.

As part of the laws around limits, police are now able to conduct roadside tests for the presence of cannabis or cocaine, while checks for other illegal substances, such as ketamine, heroin and LSD can be carried out at a police station.

Currently the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland means you can be arrested if you are unfit to drive through drug use, although Scotland is set to introduce similar limits to those in England and Wales in 2019.

Penalties

If you’re convicted of drug-driving the punishment can be severe.

You will receive a minimum of a one-year driving ban, face an unlimited fine and could potentially be jailed for up to six months. The conviction will remain on your licence for 11 years.

If you cause a death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs you could be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail.

Medical advice

If you’re taking any prescription medicine you should check the documentation for a list of side-effects and, if in any doubt about its effect on your driving consult your doctor.

GEM has also produced a checklist for anyone worried about drug-driving:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if a medicine could affect your ability to drive. Be particularly careful if you are using a medicine for the first time.
  • If you do experience potentially dangerous side effects from a medicine, don’t drive. Organise a taxi or a lift from a friend if you need to travel.
  • Never combine medications with alcohol when you need to drive, because of the increased impairment and risks that go with it.
  • If you find a particular medicine is making you sleepy, consider asking if there is a non-sedating alternative available.
  • It’s not just prescription medicines that can cause potentially dangerous side-effects. So, check with your pharmacist if you plan to use an over-the-counter drug.
  • If you’re unsure about the warning given on the medicine you’re using, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any risks… before you drive anywhere.

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