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How over-the-counter medicine could put you over new drug driving limits

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 19 February 2015
  2. Cars and Motoring
  3. 0 comments
Drugs and driving

Drug driving laws have been targeted at those who drive with illegal drugs in their system until now – however, from the 2nd of March, the law is being extended to set limits for certain prescription drugs, as well as some illicit drugs. Here’s what you need to know.

Prescription drugs and driving

The new drugs to be covered by drug driving law are pain or anxiety relief medications which could, in high enough doses, impair the user and make them a danger behind the wheel. Some of the drugs have other uses (methadone, for example, is used in the treatment of heroin addiction).

The following drugs will be covered:

  • clonazepam
  • diazepam
  • flunitrazepam
  • lorazepam
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • oxazepam
  • temazepam

Those caught breaking the law will face a ban from driving of at least 12 months, as well as up to six months in prison and a fine of up to £5,000.

What should I do if I am prescribed one of these medications?

Most drivers who are prescribed these medications will be fine, as long as they are not exceeding the prescribed dosage. The limits for prescription drugs have been deliberately set high to avoid penalising those who are not impaired.

“If you are taking your medicine as directed and your driving is not impaired, then you are not breaking the law and there is no need to worry,” said Road Safety Minister Robert Goodwill MP. “There will also be a medical defence if a driver has been taking medication as directed and is found to be over the limit but not impaired.”

If you have been prescribed large doses of medication, it would be wise to have prescription slips or other evidence in your car, just in case you are stopped and tested by the police.

If you do have any doubts, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how your medicine may affect your driving. Do not stop taking your medicine without their approval.

Over-the-counter cold and flu medications

It isn’t just prescription drugs which could soon land you in trouble with the law – drivers have been warned that cold medicines, such as Night Nurse, could impair your ability to drive and put you over the limit, even if you took them the night before.

“People who feel under the weather sometimes overdose themselves,” warned Edmund King, president of the AA. “There could be instances where someone has had a late night because they felt ill and knew they had to be on the road at 6am – they could be over the limit.”

Any medicine that could affect your ability to drive must indicate this on the label, so make sure you check the label of any medicine carefully before you get behind the wheel (although this is good advice in any circumstances).

New limits for illegal drugs

Driving under the influence of illegal drugs has been illegal since 2012 – however, unlike with alcohol, there has never been any defined limit for drugs, meaning that a driver could only be charged with drug driving if they were found to be impaired.

This is also set to change. Under the new changes, the following illegal drugs will have fixed limits:

  • cannabis/THC
  • cocaine
  • diamorphine
  • ecstasy/MDMA
  • heroin
  • ketamine
  • LSD
  • methamphetamine

Police will have access to drug-testing kits to test for these substances, as well as the newly-restricted prescription drugs.

Setting limits for these drugs does not mean you can take a small amount of a drug and still be able to drive – they have been set with very low amounts, such as two micrograms of cannabis per litre of blood, so that taking any of these drugs, even in a small amount, will put you over the limit.

The limits are only there to avoid penalising someone who has passively absorbed an illicit substance into their system (standing next to someone smoking cannabis, for example) or someone who took a drug a while ago, the effects of which have long since worn off.

You can find more information on drink driving and drug driving law in our drink driving section.

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