The use of prescribed and over-the-counter medications could lead to drivers being prosecuted under drug driving laws, if they contain ‘illegal’ ingredients.
The Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP) says drug driving is potentially becoming an increasing issue for fleets and is warning operators to introduce and enforce drug-driving policies.
With relatively large numbers of drivers still contracting COVID and others suffering from its long-term effects, there has been a rise in use of both prescribed and over-the-counter medications that can impair performance behind the wheel, explained chair Paul Hollick.
He said: “Although it is an issue that is difficult to quantify, this is definitely something that we are hearing about from both inside the AFP and elsewhere in the fleet industry.
“The growing problem here is not with recreational drugs but those that have been prescribed by your doctor or even those can be bought freely in any pharmacy and often supermarkets, too. Ironically, they can even be found in service stations.
“There is a relatively long list of medications that are used every day for perfectly legitimate reasons by employees driving cars on business but which contain ingredients that are actually illegal and will increase the chances of being involved in an accident in a similar manner to drink-driving.”
Codeine, for example, is found in a range of branded and unbranded over-the-counter painkillers but can impair driving performance by causing drowsiness and, if a driver is tested for drug-driving by the police, they could lose their licence.
Hollick added: “It’s an issue that seems to have become especially acute as a result of the pandemic. Drivers are buying or being prescribed medications to treat immediate or ongoing symptoms of Covid and, as a result, could be placing themselves and other road users in danger.”
Bilal Hussain, a serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, explained: “Driving whilst taking prescription and over the counter medication can be very dangerous and can affect your driving in a number of ways, similar to illegal drug use.”
It’s an offence to drive if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you have not been prescribed them, these include: amphetamine, Clonazepam, Diazepam, Flunitrazepam, Lorazepam, Methadone, Morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs (for example Codeine, Tramadol or Fentanyl), Oxazepam and Temazepam.
In June, Section 86 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (PCSCA) come into force. It gives the courts new powers to hand down life sentences under Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, for causing death by dangerous driving, and Section 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs.
Drivers who kill someone while driving dangerously or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, previously faced a maximum custodial sentence of 14 years.
There are also substances that aren’t covered by drug-driving legislation - and are technically legal to take while driving - but could also represent an increased risk. This is especially topical during spring and summer because of the widespread use of antihistamines to treat hay fever. NHS guidance specifically says not to drive after taking some of these drugs because of impaired co-ordination, reaction speed and judgement.
Hollick said: “The vast majority of drivers taking medications in this way are not aware they are doing anything wrong and the first step for fleet managers should be to increase awareness by issuing guidance and creating a written policy. The AFP is able to help its members in this area with advice.
“There is also a case for regular and specific reminders to be sent out at specific times of year – perhaps the onset of winter as coughs and colds become more common and in the spring when hay fever takes effect. Employees need to know that the situation is being taken seriously and that they need to take responsibility for their fitness-to-drive.”
FleetNews August 2022