Calling all drivers! New drug driving legislation is now in force – and it’s not just those using illegal drugs that need to take notice. Read on to find out how your prescription medicines and over-the-counter remedies could result in a driving ban of at least 12 months – or even imprisonment.
Beat the confusion surrounding the new law with APH.com‘s easy to read guide covering the new rules on driving with both legal and illicit drugs, which came into effect on March 2, 2015.
New drug driving law at-a-glance guide
It’s not just illegal drugs that can claim your licence
Read on and get the information you need to ensure your licence stays safe…
What is the new law?
Getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs – either illicit or prescription – has always been an offence if the police can prove their use impairs your ability to drive. The new law will work alongside the existing offence, but will now make it an offence to drive while over a specified limit for each of the 16 drugs included in the new law – bringing it in line with drink-driving legislation. Police will no longer need to prove impairment for this new offence.
When does it come into effect?
The new law came into effect on March 2, 2015
Surely this won’t affect me?
You might not be snorting cocaine or injecting heroin, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be affected by this legislation. Government stats reveal that around 19million prescriptions are written for medicines that are made up of substances included in this new legislation.
How will police test for the drugs?
Previously, police would ask motorists suspected of driving while impaired by drugs to take a roadside impairment test. This includes areas such as having their pupils assessed for size, condition and reaction to light. However, new roadside saliva tests have now been approved for police use. These will work in a similar way to breathalysers and will provide a pass or fail reading for the 16 drugs covered by the new law.
What drugs are included and what are the limits?
The following prescription and illicit drugs will be included in this new law. The limits are also included and effectively relate to a zero-tolerance policy for illicit substances.
All that sounds confusing – how much does that relate to?
Traces of illicit and prescription drugs can remain in your body for many days, which is why a panel of experts assisted the government in setting levels at which they are likely to impair driving ability.
However, the amount of time it will take for drug levels to fall to an acceptable level will depend on various factors, such as a person’s weight, tolerance and amount of substance taken.
Does that mean I should stop my medication?
No. Do not stop taking your prescribed medication, but you will need to make sure you’re taking it exactly as prescribed by your doctor, health professional or on the packaging.
If your prescribed medication includes drugs on the restricted list, you have what is known as a ‘Medical Defence’. However, you should make an appointment with a doctor or health professional to discuss the dose of drug you are taking. In some cases, it may be necessary to reduce or modify the amount of drug you take.
The government is advising anyone taking prescription medicines covered by the new law that it would be ‘helpful for you to keep some evidence of this with you in case you’re stopped by the police’.
If you exceed the dose prescribed by your doctor, or health professional you will no longer be able to use the medical defence, making it likely that you’ll be open to prosecution under the new legislation.
What happens if I am stopped and fail a roadside saliva test?
If you provide a positive roadside saliva test, you will be taken to a police station where you’ll be requested to provide a blood sample as evidence for any subsequent prosecution.
However, if you’re taking the medication under advice from a doctor, you are entitled to raise the statutory ‘medical defence’ at any stage. Providing you have reasonable proof of this, there should be no grounds for arrest or requirement to take a blood test.
What should you keep in your car?
If you are taking medication that includes a controlled drug, obtaining a letter from your doctor confirming your legitimate use of the drug and dosage required should help avoid problems with cops at the roadside. Your doctor might charge anything up to £20.00 for this, but it could save a lot of time and inconvenience if you’re stopped by the police.
Tell me more about the ‘Medical Defence’:
The ‘medical defence’ can usually by raised if the following conditions apply:
IThe drug was lawfully prescribed, supplied, or purchased over-the-counter, for medical or dental purposes; and
The drug was taken in accordance with advice given by the person who prescribed or supplied the drug, and in accordance with any accompanying literature.
When the Medical Defence does not apply:
If the police have evidence that the ‘patient’s’ driving was impaired due to drugs, whether prescribed or not, they can prosecute under the existing offence of driving whilst impaired through drugs as described in section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, for which there is no statutory “medical defence”:
What happens if I am convicted under this new law?
Penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving. If you are convicted you will receive:
A minimum 12-month driving ban
A criminal record
A fine of up to £5000 or up to 6 months in prison or both
Don’t ignore effects of alcohol:
The effects of many drugs, both prescribed and illicit, can be enhanced when combined with alcohol. Mixing alcohol and drugs can lead to significant impairment and prosecution even if intoxication levels are within legal limits.
Does this law supersede the current law of driving while impaired?
No. Driving while impaired through drugs (whether due to non-medical use of drugs or due to legitimate use of medicines) in section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, will operate alongside this new offence.
Driving while impaired – existing law at-glance-guide
The size of pupil can be used to check impairment due to drugs – legit or otherwise: image credit
Along with the new test that measures the amount of a certain drug you have in your blood, the existing offence of driving while impaired by a drug will still apply. Here’s all you need to know about this law and how it might affect you – and what medications motorists should be careful of using.
Here’s all you need to know about the current ‘driving while impaired’ law.
Is this the same as the new law?
No. The new law involves a roadside test that checks the level of certain drugs in your blood. This existing law is used to look for road users whose driving is impaired by drugs. The new law covers 16 drugs, while this existing law covers all medications and illegal substances.
Is it true that everyday medication can affect my driving?
It certainly is. Research has revealed that even over-the-counter medications for mild colds can cause drowsiness and dramatically increase reaction times. See our graphic below for more information.
But the medications are legal, so I am okay to use them, right:
Wrong! Driving under the influence of any drug – legal or otherwise – is a serious offence and covered by the Road Traffic Act 1988. It’s also treated with the same severity as drink driving – attracting the same penalties.
But if my doctor prescribed it, I am covered?
Not necessarily the case, if the drug impairs your driving then it’s your responsibility to stay off the road. However, your doctor should warn you of potential issues when prescribing the medication.
The new law has a ‘Medical Defence’ so I am okay if my doc prescribed the drug?
It’s correct that the ‘Medical Defence’ applies to the new law, but it certainly doesn’t apply to this existing legislation. If the police can prove your driving is impaired by drugs, then you can be prosecuted.
How do I know if a medication could impair my driving?
Read the patient information leaflet, which comes with the product. If in doubt, have a chat with the pharmacist who’ll be able to tell you if the medication could make you feel drowsy.
So should I stop taking my medication?
Once again, speak to your doctor for advice. In some cases it may be you’ll need to change drugs, but don’t stop taking any treatment without first discussing it with a GP.
I've been prescribed drugs and none warn of drowsiness – am I OK to drive?
This might not be the case, combining medicines can create unpredictable reactions. Don’t drive until you’ve tested the combination and spoken to your doctor. This advice also applies to over-the-counter medications.
How do police check for this offence?
The police may ask drivers they suspect are under the influence of drugs to perform a series of physical tests, usually at the roadside. These include tests such as walking along a straight line, touching the tip of their noses with their finger, and standing on one leg. The police also examine drivers’ pupils to see if they are dilated while checking for slurred speech and poor co-ordination. If the police officer is not satisfied the suspect is taken to a police station and a blood test undertaken.
Danger in the medicine cabinet
Don’t think that popping a headache pill or taking a pill to soothe your cold are exempt from danger. Many over-the-counter medications are capable of leaving your driving impaired – and you open to prosecution under existing law. Here’s the information you need on everyday remedies you can buy at your local pharmacy…
It’s essential that older drivers should pay special attention to warnings on over-the-counter medicines, because as people age, we become more susceptible to sedation and performance impairment due to renal dysfunction in old age.
* Source: The British Allergy Foundation
Am I fit to drive?
Here’s the official government video looking at the new legislation.
How illegal and prescription drugs affect driving
Combining any type of drugs with driving means this is more likely
Do you know someone that might be driving while under the influence of drugs? This is how illicit and prescription drugs can affect behaviour behind the wheel…
Effects of illicit substances can be unpredictable because they are unregulated, but research shows that these common factors apply to those using the various groups when behind the wheel. Effects can also last long beyond when the drug was taken, with disturbed, or shortened sleep patterns making accidents more likely.
Open each section below to see how illegal drugs affect performance behind the wheel.
Using this drug will slow reactions, affect co-ordination and cause users to suffer a sedative-like effect. Research in simulators shows drivers who’ve used cannabis are less able to steer accurately and slower to react to developing hazards.
This drug can boost confidence and cause erratic behaviour. Users will tend to drive faster and take risks while ‘high’ from the drug. Additionally, the ‘come down’ period over following days will leave affect concentration and make drivers feel sleepy.
Using this drug can boost the amount of adrenaline produced, leaving drivers behaving in an over-confident manner – and taking more risks.
Using this can distort time and movement, making it impossible for drivers to judge the position and speed of other road users. Using the drug can also cause hallucinations, resulting in panic and confusion – not a good mix for drivers.
This stimulant leaves users over-alert and excited, resulting in risk-taking and erratic behaviour behind the wheel. The drug will also make it difficult to sleep, so extreme fatigue will become a problem for users driving on subsequent days.
Amphetamines, also have medicinal use in the control of several conditions and the government consultation on maximum permissible limits in the blood is yet to be set.
Illegal drugs and crash risk
Research of fatal crashes in France between 2001 and 2003 revealed taking cannabis almost doubles the risk of involvement in a fatal crash.
Research from a European study reveals that cocaine and illegal opiate use increases a driver’s serious and fatal crash risk by up to 10 times.
Motorists taking a cocktail of illegal drugs combined with alcohol were found to be 23 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared with sober and drug-free drivers, according to research in the USA.
Just because drugs are dispensed over the counter, it doesn’t mean they’re exempt from new or existing drug-driving laws. Many medications can cause drowsiness, slow reaction times and affect concentration or vision. A UK-based study from 2000 revealed 5% of car drivers and 4% of motorcyclists killed in road crashed had taken legal medications that could have affected their ability to drive.
Medications that cause drowsiness or otherwise impair driving ability will carry a warning on the packaging and information label. However, a survey by road safety charity Brake and Direct Line found that one in six drivers admit they ignore warnings not to drive, or even checking the medication’s information leaflet at all.
The government is creating ‘partner packs’ for pharmacists in an attempt to create wider awareness of what drugs will be affected by the new legislation and making users aware of which over-the-counter medications could impair driving and risk prosecution – or injury.
Prescription drugs crash risk
A Norwegian study revealed the risk of being involved in a road crash double or tripled – depending on the type of medication – for up to a week after taking prescription drugs such as opiate painkillers and some types of tranquilizers. Additionally, a study in New Zealand found people using medicines prescribed to treat bipolar disorder are more than three times as likely to be at fault in an accident than a drug-free driver.
Worried that someone has been using drugs
Are you worried that someone you know has been driving while impaired by drugs? Here are some of the tell-tale signs a person is under the influence of drugs.
Skin: Poor condition and unusually pale
Weight: Look out for unexplained weightloss
Sweating: Especially night sweats
Nails: Brittle or broken
Hair: Unusually dull or lank
Eyes: Bloodshot and unusual-sized pupil
Complexion: Look out for spots around nose and mouth
Anyone who wishes to check for illicit drugs in their system or that of a car-driving child for example, can purchase a cheap, discreet home test kit. Here’s an example of what’s on offer.
4 Drug Screen – Saliva test What is it: Easy-to-read home-based drug test kit that uses saliva for the sample. What drugs does it test for: This test kit will look for evidence of the following illicit drugs at and above the stated levels: AMP Amphetamines (50 ng/ml), COC Cocaine (20 ng/ml), MOR Heroin/Opiate/Morphine (40 ng/ml), THC (Cannabis 10 ng/ml). How much: £9.99 for single-use kit Where:Get your kit here
8 Panel Drug Test with Integrated Cup – urine test
What is it: This is a multi-drug test kit that has all you need to get result in less than 10 minutes. Testing is carried out using a urine sample. What drugs does it test for: This eight-panel drug test detects the presence of Amphetamines (Speed), Benzodiazepines(Valium), Buprenorphine (Subutex), Cannabis (Marijuana), Cocaine (Crack), EDDP(Methadone), Metamphetamines (Crystal Meth or Ice) and Opiates (Heroin). How much: £10.49 for single-use kit Where:Get your kit here
We do not guarantee the accuracy of any third party drug test published here.
Beat anxiety… flying without risking your licence
Travel sickness pills and anxiety medication can lose your licence
Fear of flying is a common complaint that’s routinely and successfully treated by doctors prescribing a short course of a medication such as Valium. Taking a few of these before a flight can reduce anxiety and make your trip more enjoyable. However, drugs such as this include substances covered by the new law.
Using a drug for the first time can increase its potency, so here are our tips for nervous flyers who are taking Valium to treat anxiety. Returning home to the UK then jumping straight in your car could potentially leave you ‘over the limit’, so consider these options.
Book a hotel with parking package: Here at APH we offer parking and hotel packages for only a few pounds more than parking alone. Arrive the night before you fly – cutting stress even further – then use your medication on the morning of your flight and take advantage of the hotel to airport transfer… ensuring you’re ready for your flight, but not risking your licence under the new drug driving law.
Additionally, using air sickness pills on flights can also leave you drowsy and at risk of driving while impaired. If you take these drugs and feel drowsy on your return, you should consider booking a hotel room allowing you to recover. Find out more here.
Meet and greet parking: If booking a hotel room isn’t an option for you, choosing a meet and greet parking package could save you up to an hour compared with other parking options – giving you time to take your medication and for it to take effect before your flight takes off. Find out more information on meet and greet parking here.
ROSPA Safe Journey planner
Are you fit to drive? From medications to general tiredness, this planner from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will help you arrive at to your destination in one piece. Download it here.