Drug Driving and Benzos

On March 2nd 2015 the law was changed with regard to drugs and driving.

The Daily Express said that:

“The new legislation will allow police officers to test drivers for traces of drugs for the first time….officers will no longer have to prove a driver was too impaired to drive – only that they had an illegal level of drugs in their system. British motorists who get behind the wheel with illegal drugs – or illegal quantities of legal medication – in their system could face a year in prison and a fine of up to £5,000.” 

Some of the medications named specifically in this law are Benzodiazepines 

Government advice

Drugs and driving: the law

It’s illegal to drive if either:

  • you’re unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
  • you have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they haven’t affected your driving)

Legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you’re taking them and not sure if you should drive, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional.

The police can stop you and make you do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs. This is a series of tests, eg asking you to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine.

If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station.

You could be charged with a crime if the test shows you’ve taken drugs. 

Prescription medicines

It’s illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.

It’s an offence to drive if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you haven’t been prescribed them.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you’ve been prescribed any of the following drugs:

  • clonazepam
  • diazepam
  • flunitrazepam
  • lorazepam
  • methadone
  • morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, eg codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • oxazepam
  • temazepam

You can drive after taking these drugs if:

  • you’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional
  • they aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits

You could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you haven’t been prescribed them.

The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.

Penalties for drug driving

If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:

  • a minimum 1 year driving ban
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • a criminal record

Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years. https://www.gov.uk/drug-driving-law

So what effect do Benzos actually have on a driver?

The Diazepam patient information leaflet says that:

“Diazepam tablets can make you sleepy, forgetful, have poor co-ordination along with other side effects that can affect everyday activities (see Possible side effects). You should not drive, operate machinery or take part in such activities where, if affected, you could put yourself or others at risk.

The medicine can affect your ability to drive as it may make you sleepy or dizzy.

  • Do not drive while taking this medicine until you know how it affects you.
  • It is an offence to drive if this medicine affects your ability to drive.

However, you would not be committing an offence if:

  • The medicine has been prescribed to treat a medical or dental problem and
  • You have taken it according to the instructions given by the prescriber or in the information provided with the medicine and
  • It was not affecting your ability to drive safely

And how would the driver know if they were affected?

One of the aspects of Benzos is that the person taking them is not necessarily aware of their effects – so the person driving might think they are fine, when in fact their cognitive functions are quite seriously affected.

The idea that the effects of Benzos on driving are somehow less, or that they are more acceptable because they are prescribed clearly is not true.