Drivers have been urged to take care if they take cold or flu remedies this winter or risk a fine and driving ban.
As the cold weather sets in, bringing with it an upswing in ill-health, GEM Motoring Assist has warned motorists about the potentially dangerous effects some medications can have on driving.
The breakdown organisation has reminded drivers that some cold and flu treatments, painkillers and other drugs can cause drowsiness, reducing a driver’s ability to concentrate on the driving task.
Even if the medication is legal and even if it has been prescribed by a doctor, driving while affected by drugs of this kind is both potentially dangerous and criminal.
GEM road safety officer Neil Worth said: “You may not be aware that your driving can be compromised by medicinal drugs. Therefore you could be breaking the law without realising.
“A conviction for drug driving carries a minimum one-year driving ban, an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison. You will have a criminal record that means you may have trouble getting a job or travelling overseas. Even once you are able to get your licence back, it will be endorsed for 11 years.
“So we cannot stress enough the importance of reading labels and seeking advice from healthcare professionals before driving.”
Worth added: “If you find that a specific remedy is likely to make you drowsy and impair your driving, then you must not drive after taking it. If you need to drive, make sure you ask a healthcare professional for a medicine that will not cause drowsy side-effects.”
Current law makes it a criminal offence to drive while impaired through drink or drugs but there are also specific limits for certain legal and illegal substances, beyond which you can be prosecuted.
The limits have been in place in England and Wales since 2015 and came into law in Scotland in October 2019. They place near-zero limits on eight illegal drugs, and strict thresholds for nine prescription medications. If police suspect you are impaired through drug use they can carry out roadside testing for presence of cannabis or cocaine, while checks for other illegal substances, such as ketamine, heroin and LSD can be carried out at a police station.
GEM has also produced a checklist for anyone worried about drug-driving:
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist if a medicine could affect your ability to drive. Be particularly careful if you are using a medicine for the first time.
- If you do experience potentially dangerous side effects from a medicine, don’t drive. Organise a taxi or a lift from a friend if you need to travel.
- Never combine medications with alcohol when you need to drive, because of the increased impairment and risks that go with it.
- If you find a particular medicine is making you sleepy, consider asking if there is a non-sedating alternative available.
- It’s not just prescription medicines that can cause potentially dangerous side-effects. So, check with your pharmacist if you plan to use an over-the-counter drug.
- If you’re unsure about the warning given on the medicine you’re using, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any risks… before you drive anywhere.