What about legal drugs?
Prescription or over the counter medicines should always be taken properly. Advice about this is provided on the packaging and in the patient information leaflet supplied and packed in with the medicine. Advice can also be obtained from whoever has prescribed the medicine, or from the pharmacist who dispenses it.
Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines can have an effect on the skills needed to drive safely. These effects include drowsiness, impaired judgement and a lack of self-confidence. These effects can be more profound if medicine is not taken properly – for example, if doses are varied or medicine is taken at the wrong time or too frequently. The effects can be short term and temporary, so it should be possible to avoid any risk of driving unsafely.
Is it an offence to drive or attempt to drive while unfit through medicine?
It is an offence to drive or attempt to drive while unfit through drugs, and the law does not distinguish between illegal drugs and medicines. Sections 4(1) and (2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 ('the 1988 Act') say that a person who, when driving or attempting to drive – or in charge of – a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs is guilty of an offence.
This law exists because a driver who is impaired through drugs is at risk of having an accident. Insurance will be affected by a conviction or an accident linked to drugs and medicines in the same way as it is for drink-driving.
Picking up a new prescription or over-the-counter medicine
It’s every driver’s responsibility to ensure that they are safe to drive. If a driver is taking medicine, they must be sure that their ability to drive is not affected. The best way to find out if they are safe to drive is to ask for advice from a doctor, healthcare professional or pharmacist. They will advise the driver on how to take the medicine to control their medical condition without risking their safety by driving when impaired.
Medical conditions that could affect your driving
The law requires you to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about any condition that may affect your ability to drive safely. If you are involved in an accident and it is found that your health condition was a contributing factor, you may be prosecuted and your insurance may not be valid.
Use the medical A to Z to see if you need to notify DVLA about your medical condition
For pharmacists and other healthcare professionals
Health professionals prescribing or dispensing medicines over the counter need to think about whether the patient may be at risk if they take the medicine and drive. Hence they should take the opportunity to talk to the driver about how to take the medicine safely.
For more advice please follow these links:
- British National Formulary
Jointly published by the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, the British National Formulary aims to provide prescribers, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals with sound up-to-date information about the use of medicines – including key information on the selection, prescribing, dispensing and administration of medicines. This is updated every six months, in March and September of each year.
- Electronic Medicines Compendium
For prescribers or pharmacists wishing to know further specific information.
- Fitness to drive
This is a document for health professionals and others helping to provide drivers with more informed advice on their health and fitness to drive. The chapter on 'medication, impairment and risk' gives general advice in line with current information.
Partnership activity with pharmacists
THINK! are keen to work with a wide range of partners who can provide valuable support in communicating road safety messages to the public.
As part of its commitment to raising awareness of the risks of driving whilst using prescription and over the counter medicines, DfT has developed a pilot partnership with Boots in consultation with a number of organisations including MHRA, NPA, PAGB and BMA.
One million leaflets will be distributed through 2,600 Boots stores while medicine bags will be labelled with stickers prompting drivers to check with their doctor or pharmacist that they are safe to drive while taking their medication.
Those taking medicine should follow the instructions properly and continue to take it as directed. Anyone with questions about their medication should contact a health professional for advice.
If the pilot proves to be successful the opportunity could be opened out to pharmacies nationwide. If you are interested in accessing the materials, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.