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Monday, 2 March 2015

New UK initiative from 2nd March on driving and legal or illegal drugs

2nd March 2015: 
It was previously an offence to drive whilst impaired through drink or drugs.

New regulations in England and Wales, in place from 2nd March 2015, aim to reduce risk of RTAs caused by drivers who are taking illegal drugs while driving, or legal drugs which impair their ability to drive. 

It is now an offence, as it has been for alcohol, to drive with certain drugs above a specified level in the blood. Sixteen legal (see Table below) and illegal drugs are covered by the law, including cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine. 

There is now a zero tolerance approach to 8 drugs most associated with illegal use. There will also be a 'road safety risk based approach' to 8 prescribed drugs most associated with RTA risk. It remains the "driver’s responsibility to decide whether they consider their driving is, or they believe might be, impaired on any given occasion." (page 7)

Recreational drugs are well-established as causes of road traffic accidents (RTAs). DrinkAware lists several important reasons why alcohol leads to accidents. Alcohol
  • affects judgement and reasoning
  • slows down reactions
  • upsets sense of balance and coordination
  • impairs vision and hearing
  • makes users lose concentration and feel drowsy.
DrinkAware note legal limits for alcohol in the breath as 35 microgram/100 
mL for England and Wales (80 milligram/100 ml in blood) and lower at 22 microgram/100 mL in breath for Scotland (50 milligram/100 ml in blood).

Cannabis use also increases driving risk in several ways and has, for example, been implicated in 1 in 4 RTAs in France.  Furthermore alcohol and cannabis are often used together and in combination can increase risk of a road traffic accident.

For recreational drugs, safety when driving may be impaired both during use and during drug withdrawal.  

Several commonly prescribed drugs are also expected to reduce alertness and lead to increased risk of road traffic accidents.

People who are having difficulty sleeping may already when awake have reduced ability to concentrate on key tasks, including driving. Poor quality of sleep combined with night sedation may  together reduce alertness further.

Other drugs may have sedative effects as a less obvious action – for example opiate like drugs used to treat pain.

Patients who are concerned about the effects of their prescribed drugs on their safety while driving should consult their pharmacist of medical adviser.

The Government's website notes that:
 'the new law provides a medical defence if you’re taking your medicine in accordance with instructions – either from a healthcare professional or printed in the accompanying leaflet – provided, of course, you’re not impaired.'

It also notes that:
'If you’re driving and you’re on prescription medicine, it may therefore be helpful for you to keep some evidence of this with you in case you’re stopped by the police.'

The following blood level limits for prescription drugs are noted to be:

‘Medicinal’ drugs (risk based approach) Threshold limit in blood
amphetamine 250µg/L
clonazepam 50µg/L
diazepam 550µg/L
flunitrazepam 300µg/L
lorazepam 100µg/L
methadone 500µg/L
morphine 80µg/L
oxazepam 300µg/L
temazepam 1,000µg/L

UK Government's drug driving website

Drug Driving: Guidance for Healthcare Professionals

DrinkAware website

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