We all know that it’s illegal to drive after taking illicit drugs, but what about after taking medicine for the flu? If it’s something you can buy at a Boots, is it something you can be prosecuted for taking.
The rules are actually the same: it is illegal to drive if your driving is impaired by legal or illegal drugs. Driving is a skill that requires a lot of coordination and judgement, and one where if you get it wrong you can end someone’s life.
The police can stop you and do a field impairment assessment which is a series of tests as shown in this video. The first is pupil size, the second is the Romberg test, the third is the walk and turn test (nine steps forwards and nine steps back), the fourth is the one-leg stand which checks the driver’s balance, and the final test is the finger-to-nose test.
If you don’t pass these tests the the police will arrest you and take you to the station where you will be tested. If the test is positive the consequences are severe:
- A minimum 12-month driving ban
- A criminal record
- A fine of up to £5000 or up to 6 months in prison or both
The consequences of a drug drive conviction are far reaching and can include:
- Job loss
- Loss of independence
- The shame of having a criminal record
- Increase in car insurance costs
- Trouble being admitted to countries like the USA
How are medicines used
You could well be taking a legal medication for any of these reasons:
- Colds and viruses
- Managing pain
- Heart conditions
- High cholesterol
- Muscle spasms
- High blood pressure
- Degenerative diseases
You could have bought your medication over the counter or you could have been prescribed it by a doctor. If you buy it over the counter then you will need to check the label to see whether you can drive after taking it. If you are prescribed the medication from a doctor, the doctor will usually tell you, but you should still also check yourself. Some medications can cause dizziness, nausea, inability to concentrate, delayed reactions, fainting, stomach cramps and a reduction in spatial awareness and coordination.
Combinations of medications can have a magnifying effect on symptoms and this includes herbal supplements.
Can you drive after taking medication?
If your medication specifically forbids you from driving then you must not drive. If your medication doesn’t forbid you to drive but you are so sick that you would be a danger to other motorists then you must not drive. If you take any medication and it makes you feel impaired – light-headed, ‘spaced out’, dizzy or weak, or have restricted vision, hearing or reaction time – then you must not drive. This might occur even with medications that are not marked as being unsafe to drive with as your body could have its own reaction to the medication.
What do ask your doctor
When you get any medication make sure you ask your doctor the following questions:
- How will this medicine affect me on a day-to-day basis?
- Am I allowed to drive after taking this medication?
- If I am not allowed to drive, how long must I wait after taking it?
- Is there an alternative medication that would allow me to drive?
- What can I change in my lifestyle to reduce the amount of medication required?
- If I must take this medication are there any community organisations that can help me with transport?
If you rely on driving for a living, i.e. your job requires that you drive, make your doctor aware of it.
A general list of medications that are likely to prevent you from driving
- Products containing codeine
- Some pain relievers (stronger pain relievers like Tramadol, for example)
- Sleeping pills
- Some anti-allergy products
- Some cold remedies
- Some antidepressants
- Some diet pills if they contain stimulants
- Prescription drugs to control anxiety
Alternatives to driving
If you can’t drive here are some options for getting around:
- Cycling – bear in mind that you must get clearance from your doctor because cycling requires similar road skills to driving and if you are not allowed to drive there’s a strong likelihood you might not be allowed to cycle on public roads either
- Public transport such as the bus or train
- Electronic mobility devices – from mobility scooters to Segways (check the legality of each device when considering it)
- Do tasks like grocery shopping online
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.