Drug driving arrests increase by 140% since new laws were introduced

New figures have revealed that the number of drug driving arrests has increased by 140% in the UK over the last 12 months.

The data, which was collected from a ‘Freedom of Information’ request made by Confused.com, shows that the rise has coincided with new drug driving laws that came into effect over a year ago. However, a fifth of motorists are still unaware that it’s an offence to drive while impaired by prescription medication.

The most common drugs used by those who have been arrested in the last year have been illegal but a number of prescription medications, such as diazepam and codeine, also featured on the list.

Common medications like antihistamines can impact upon a person’s ability to drive. However, 64% of hay fever sufferers said that they will still drive even though antihistamines make them drowsy. 1 in 20 admitted that they have had an accident as a result of driving under the influence of the medicine.

Matt Lloyd, motoring expert at Confused.com, commented:

“There is an area for concern around the level of awareness amongst drivers when it comes to how certain medications can affect a person’s driving ability. This is particularly alarming given the current time of year, especially as more than a third of motorists admit to suffering from hay fever and many resort to medication to help combat the symptoms – despite the potential risks of drowsiness and reduced concentration levels.”

Prescription drugs which, if found to be over the limit, you can be arrested for, include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Clonazepam - often used to treat seizures
  • Diazepam, Oxazepam and Lorazepam – typically prescribed for anxiety
  • Flunitrazepam and Temazepam – both sleeping medicines
  • Methadone – a substitute drug used to treat heroin addiction
  • Morphine and other opiate or opiate-based drugs like codeine, tramadol and other painkillers

A potential reason for the increase in the number of drug driving arrests may be the ambiguity and lack of clarity within the guidelines. Most doses of these drugs fall under the legal limit and under the current law: if a person has been prescribed these drugs and their driving is unimpaired, they are legal to use. However, if they affect a person’s performance on the road, they may be breaking the law.

The penalties for drug driving include a minimum one-year driving ban, an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record.

What can affect how you react to prescription drugs?

When taking prescription medication, it’s a good idea to know what can affect how a person may react to them - especially when planning to drive.

  • Other medications – when taking more than one type of medication, consult your doctor about how the two might react taken together. Taking leftover medication or accepting something from a friend may have unpredictable side-effects.

  • Health supplements – some herbal pills can affect how you react to certain medications. St John’s wort, vitamin E, ginseng and Ginkgo biloba are marketed as boosting aspects of health, but they can also react with a number of widely prescribed drugs and cause life-threatening reactions.
  • Not taking the proper dose – taking more than the recommended dose may lead to complications that could affect a person in a range of negative ways.
  • Genetics and age – the effect a medication may have on a person can vary based on age and genetics. If a person has recently been prescribed medication that may impair their ability to drive, it’s wise to see what effect they have first before you take control of a vehicle.

If you are worried about how your prescription medication might affect your ability to drive, please see your doctor who will be able to advise you accordingly. Other precautions you can take include:

  • Only ever take your medication as prescribed
  • Don’t mix medication with alcohol
  • If you feel drowsy or affected by your medicine, don’t drive

If you think that you or someone you know could have a problem with illegal or prescription drugs, please feel free to visit our Drug Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.

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