Driving law while taking prescription and over counter drugs.

Could Driving with a Cold Get Me Banned?

Can you drive after taking flu and cold tablets?

We’ve all been struck down with illness in our lifetimes haven’t we?  Chills, fever, a cough, sore throat.  It’s almost unavoidable. But do not worry,  this is not yet another article about Covid19.  This is about what you should be mindful of when driving whilst  under the weather and taking medication . It also applies if you take medication for chronic conditions. 

When we have deadlines, poor sleep, children to look after and a million other responsibilities that come with adulthood, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have time to be sick and turn to over the counter and/or prescription medicine to help us persevere. 

Motor Offence: Driving whilst unfit through drug

But is there any law against driving whilst unwell? What are the risks? The answer to this question is actually more complicated than you may first think. Driving when you’re not at your best could potentially result in any number of different charges but there is one in particular I will focus on here which is “driving whilst unfit through drugs”. 

For the avoidance of doubt, this is NOT the same as drug driving but I will touch upon this briefly as well. 

In a nutshell, the police can stop you and make you do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs (eg. walk in a straight line etc). It’s easy to read the term “on drugs” and assume that  it means illegal drugs but it doesn’t-  it means any drugs. If they suspect you’ve taken drugs, you’ll be arrested as there is a chance you have committed one of the drug-related driving offences. 

In UK law, it is illegal to drive if you are either unfit to do so as a result of drugs or you are over the legal limit for certain illegal drugs. This one sentence actually creates 2 difference offences:

  1. Driving whilst unfit through drugs; and
  2. Drug driving 

The first offence requires there to be an element of you being “unfit” (impaired) to drive. Many over the counter medicines for something like the common cold can leave you drowsy. I know from experience that even something like a herbal sleeping aid can leave you feeling groggy the next morning. It is under these circumstances that you must be extra careful and not drive particularly as the “impairment” may not be immediately obvious to you.

Over-the-counter Medicines (Legal Drugs)

Legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you’re taking them and not sure if you should drive, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional before doing so and if there is any risk of side-effects that could impair your driving, the safest course of action is to avoid. We would strongly recommend talking advice before driving if you have been prescribed any of the following:

  • amphetamine, for example dexamphetamine or selegiline
  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Methadone
  • morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, for example codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • Oxazepam
  • temazepam

You can only drive after taking these drugs if:

  • you’ve been prescribed them 
  • followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional; and
  • they are not causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits

So if your friend has given you one of their prescription tablets to help you sleep and it impairs your driving the next day, even though it’s a legal drug you can still be charged. 

As I stated previously, this offence is different to drug driving which requires you to be above a prescribed limit and does not require there to be any impairment. Towards illegal drugs, an almost zero-tolerance approach was determined so if you tested positive for cannabis you would be charged with drug driving even if your standard of driving was perfect. 

If you’re convicted of either of these offences you could  receive:

  • a minimum 1 year driving ban
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • a criminal record

So even when we feel too busy to be sick, please always try and be mindful of what you’re doing to get through it as the impact can be significant and long term.

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