How Prescription Medications Can Lead to Unexpected Drug Driving Charges

June 03, 2024 10:12 am
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While most drivers in the UK are well aware of the dangers and legal consequences of driving under the influence of illegal drugs, many may not realise that prescription medications can also lead to drug 

driving charges. It’s crucial for anyone taking prescription medications to understand their potential impact on driving ability and the serious legal ramifications of getting behind the wheel while impaired.


The Legal Framework for Drug Driving in the UK

In England and Wales, the Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 set legal limits for certain prescription medications, including benzodiazepines, methadone, and morphine. If a driver is found to have a concentration of one of these drugs in their blood above the specified limit, they can face a drug driving conviction—even if they have a valid prescription for the medication.

The consequences of a drug driving conviction are severe, including a minimum 12-month driving ban, an unlimited fine, and a criminal record. In some cases, offenders may also face up to 6 months in prison. It’s important to note that these laws apply regardless of whether the medication was prescribed by a healthcare professional or obtained over the counter.


Common Prescription Medications That Can Impair Driving

Several prescription medications can affect a person’s ability to drive safely. Some of the most common include:


  1. Benzodiazepines: These medications, such as diazepam (Valium) and temazepam, are often prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms. They can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired coordination.
  2. Opioids: Powerful pain medications like codeine, morphine, and tramadol can cause significant drowsiness and impair reaction times.
  3. Antihistamines: Some antihistamines used to treat allergies, such as diphenhydramine (found in Nytol and Benadryl), can cause drowsiness and impair alertness.
  4. Antidepressants: Certain antidepressants, particularly older tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline, can cause drowsiness and impair coordination.
  5. Antipsychotics: Medications used to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, such as quetiapine and risperidone, can cause drowsiness and impair reaction times.


It’s essential for anyone taking these or other prescription medications to be aware of their potential side effects and to consider their impact on driving ability.


The Responsibility of Healthcare Providers

Healthcare providers, including doctors and pharmacists, have a responsibility to inform patients about the potential driving risks associated with their prescribed medications. They should provide clear guidance on whether it is safe to drive while taking a particular medication and any precautions that should be taken.

When prescribing a medication that could impair driving ability, healthcare professionals should discuss alternative transportation options and advise patients on the legal risks of drug driving. Patients should also be encouraged to read the medication labels and patient information leaflets carefully for any warnings related to driving or operating machinery.


Steps to Avoid Unintentional Drug Driving

If you are taking prescription medications that could affect your ability to drive, there are several steps you can take to avoid unintentional drug driving:


  1. Always follow the prescribed dosage and timing of your medications.
  2. Avoid driving during the initial period of taking a new medication until you know how it affects you.
  3. Consider alternative transportation options, such as public transit, taxis, or ride-sharing services, if you are unsure about your ability to drive safely.
  4. If you have concerns about a medication’s impact on your driving ability, consult with your doctor or pharmacist to discuss alternatives or adjustments to your treatment plan.
  5. Never combine prescription medications with alcohol or illegal drugs, as this can further impair your driving ability and increase the risk of a drug driving charge.


What to Do If You Are Charged with Drug Driving

If you find yourself facing a drug driving charge, it’s crucial to seek legal advice from a specialised motoring law firm like Driving Solicitors. An experienced solicitor can help you understand your rights, explore potential defences, and work to minimise the impact of the charge on your life and driving privileges.

Some possible defences against a drug driving charge may include:


  1. The medication was taken as prescribed and did not impair your driving ability.
  2. There were issues with the blood testing process or the handling of the sample.
  3. You were not properly informed of the potential driving risks associated with the medication.


A skilled motoring law solicitor can evaluate the specifics of your case and advise you on the best course of action to protect your interests.



The potential for prescription medications to lead to drug driving charges is a serious concern for drivers in the UK. By understanding the legal framework, being aware of the medications that can impair driving ability, and taking steps to avoid unintentional drug driving, you can help ensure your own safety and the safety of others on the road. 

If you are facing a drug driving charge, remember that you are not alone. The experienced solicitors at Driving Solicitors are here to provide the expert legal guidance and representation you need to navigate this challenging situation and protect your driving privileges. Don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance if you find yourself in this difficult position.