New drug driving law comes into force

From 2 March 2015 there will be a new drug driving law in England and Wales. This means it will be illegal to drive:

  • with certain illegal drugs in your blood, even if you’re not unfit to drive
  • with certain levels of some legal drugs in your blood, if it has affected your driving, or if you have not been prescribed them.

In this article the term ‘legal drugs’ refers to prescription or over-the-counter medicines which your doctor or pharmacist might ask you to take.

Patients taking the drugs listed in the law need to be aware that they could commit a criminal offence if they drive and are found to have any of the medicines above a certain limit in their blood.

This video from the Department for Transport explains the new law.

The drugs included in the law

The list includes drugs which are commonly abused. However, some may be used by a very small number of people for medical purposes such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For these, very low limits have been set, meaning you only have to take a very small amount of these drugs to be over the limit, including:

  • cannabinoids, ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, and heroin or diamorphine.

It also includes prescription medicines, for which higher limits have been set (above the normal recommended dose), including:

  • medicines for severe pain such as morphine
  • medicines for anxiety or sleeping problems such as diazepam
  • medicines for drug addiction such as methadone.

This list does not include all of the drugs and prescription medicines included in the law.

What does this mean for patient information

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – the regulator for medicines and medical devices in the UK have requested that additional information is provided to healthcare professionals and patients. This includes updating the Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC, for healthcare professionals) and Package Leaflet (for patients) with clear warnings related to driving, as well as including a ‘new warning’ flash to the front of packets to draw patients’ attention to the new information. If your medicine is affected by the change, it will be clearly labelled on the packet and Package Leaflet.

If you are taking a medicine that is listed in the new law, your doctor or healthcare professional will make sure you understand when you should not drive.

What to do if you are a patient taking any of the medicines listed in the law

It is important that you keep taking your medicine as prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist, and in line with the information given in the Package Leaflet that is provided with the medicine. Most patients who are fit to drive, who do not get any side effects that affect their ability to drive, and who are taking their medicines as told by their doctor or pharmacist will not be above the enforced limits and so will not be breaking the law.

  • Do not drive until you know how your medicines affect you – this is especially important if you start taking a new medicine, or change the dose of an existing medicine.
  • Do not drive if you get any side effects which affect your ability to drive, such as feeling dizzy or faint, blurred vision or if you are not able to concentrate. If you choose to drive when your driving is impaired then you are guilty of breaking the law. This was already covered in the previous law.

 

What will happen if you are stopped by the police?

If you are stopped by the police, they may use a roadside test to see if you have taken any drugs, or medicines listed within this new law. If the test is positive, you will need to have a blood test at a police station to confirm the amount of medicine in your blood.

If you are found to have too much of the medicine in your blood you may be guilty of breaking the law.

However, the law does give patients a ‘medical defence’ – that is, you are not guilty if your driving was not impaired and:

  • the medicine was prescribed to treat a medical or dental problem and
  • you were taking the medicine as told by your healthcare professional.

In order to prove that you have taken the medicine to treat a medical condition you might find it useful to carry with you a copy of your prescription.

Information for healthcare professionals

  • It is important to tell patients to keep taking their medicines – some conditions left untreated could in themselves result in an inability to drive safely.
  • Make sure your patients understand the new offence and when they should not drive.
  • Read the ‘Guidance for healthcare professionals on drug driving‘ published by the Department for Transport.

More information for patients and healthcare professionals can be found at www.gov.uk.