Everyday medicines and Driving Laws

February 26, 2020 9:09 am
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February is here and this seems to be the longest winter to date! With Christmas feeling like years ago, January feeling like it had 356 days in it rather than 31, we are all gearing up for spring and looking forward to what 2020 has to offer us. Unfortunately, February 2020 so far has offered us plenty of cold and wet weather, and an unwelcome increase in roughs, flu, colds and sniffles for the nation. Just what you need for the January and February blues!

But, did you know that some medication which is legal and widely used by the nation for colds, coughs, flu-like symptoms and sickness bugs could impair your driving and cause you to unknowingly drive illegal. When driving under the influence of drugs is mentioned, many people think of illegal drugs such as heroin, marijuana and cocaine. But, many people do not think of the perfectly legal prescription or over the counter medicines are also included in this offence. It is an offence in England, Wales, and Scotland to drive with specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you could be charged for driving under the influence if you are pulled over by the police.

But what is the law regarding drug-driving and what are the possible penalties? Well, the Road and Traffic Act of 1988 states that “a person who, when in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle which is on the road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs is guilty of an offence.” The law also specifies that it is illegal to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle if the person is unfit to do so because the said person is on legal or illegal drugs. The law states that if there is a certain level of illegal drugs in the driver’s blood, then it is illegal for that person to be in charge of a vehicle, even if this is not affecting a person’s driving.

If a person is convicted of drug driving, the penalties are a minimum one-year driving ban, an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record. Your driving licence will also show you have been convicted for drug driving and it will stay on your licence for a further eleven years. This will last for eleven years. And the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a penalty of a prison sentence of up to fourteen years. A conviction for driving whilst under the influence of drugs also means that a person’s vehicle insurance costs will increase significantly or may not be able to get car insurance at all. Companies such as Admiral and its sister companies will not cover any driver who has been found guilty of a drug-driving offence.

Another possible consequence of a drug driving conviction is that if a person drives to work, their employer will see your conviction on your licence and the person may have difficulty travelling to different countries such as the USA.

So, what are these common household medicines that could cause a driver to be charged with driving under the influence of drugs. Drugs such as codeine is commonly found in painkillers such as Nurofen Plus which is used to treat the symptoms of the common cold. But codeine can also cause drowsiness in users and risk driving whilst impaired without the driver realising. Codeine is also an active ingredient found in Migraleve, Syndol and Boots branded tablets. It can lead to dizziness and has the potential to also cause changes to a driver’s hearing which could lead to confusion whilst driving if a driver is not used to it.

But what are the effects of driving under the influence of drugs? Well, the most common effects of driving under the influence of drugs include slower reaction times, impaired co-ordination, blurred vision, loss of concentration, increased risk-taking behaviour, inappropriate driving and not being able to judge distances and speeds properly.

The government have set out guidelines to give drivers a chance to check with their doctors if they are allowed to drive whilst taking certain medications. According to the government, an individual should ask their doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional whether they should drive if they have been prescribed any of the following medications or drugs:

  • Clonazepam (used to treat seizures and panic disorder) – 50 micrograms per litre of blood
  • amphetamine, for example dexamphetamine or selegiline (eg dexamphetamine used for conditions such as ADHD) – 250 micrograms per litre of blood
  • diazepam (anti-anxiety) – 550 micrograms per litre of blood
  • flunitrazepam (Rohypnol – sedative) – 300 micrograms per litre of blood
  • lorazepam (anti-anxiety) – 100 micrograms per litre of blood
  • oxazepam (anti-anxiety) – 300 micrograms per litre of blood
  • methadone (heroin substitute) – 500 micrograms of blood
  • temazepam (anti-anxiety and sedative) – 1,000 micrograms per litre blood
  • morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, for example codeine, tramadol or fentanyl (pain relief) – 80 micrograms per litre of blood

If the police suspect a motorist of driving under the influence of drugs, they can carry out a ‘field impairment assessment’. This is a series of tests, such as asking a person to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine. The “DrugWipes” – which have been commonly named as “drugalysers” – which use a mouth swab to screen for cannabis and cocaine, can also be used. If the police think that a driver is unfit to drive due to being under the influence of drugs, the driver will be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station. The said driver could be charged with driving under the influence of drugs if the test shows that there is a certain level of drugs in the driver’s blood or urine sample.

In December 2018, it was revealed across the UK, police forces increased drug-driving enforcement with staggering results. In November 2019, the DVLA figures showed the number of motorists convicted of drug-driving had increased fourfold since 2017. Figures also show that around 20,000 motorists were convicted after using substances in the previous 12 months. These numbers may include motorists convicted for driving under the influence of prescription drugs or over the counter drugs from pharmacies and stores.

It is essential that drivers inform the DVLA of any medical conditions or prescriptions that have the potential to affect a driver’s driving. Failing to do so can result in a driver being fined as much as £1000.

To avoid being charged with driving under the influence of legal drugs, you should talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional about whether you should drive if you’ve been prescribed certain types of legal medications. You can drive after taking these legal drugs if you’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional. You are also legal to drive if these legal drugs aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits. However, you could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you haven’t been prescribed them. This law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland, but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.

To have a read of the newspaper articles that have been used in this blog, please look at the following websites:

Our team of specialist driving offence solicitors at Driving Solicitors have the experience and expertise to give advice over any issues regarding driving under the influence of drugs. If you have been caught and charged with driving under the influence of drugs, or if you have been accused of doing this offence but feel that you have wrongly been accused, get legal advice and help today! Do not hesitate to contact Driving Solicitors on 0203 488 2551 or email us on info@drivingsolicitors.co.uk to get expert legal advice from a specialist motoring solicitor today.