Motorists are being warned about the “dangerous effects” some medicines can have on their driving ability as winter begins to bite.

According to road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist, some cold and flu treatments, as well as painkillers and other drugs, can cause drowsiness, reducing a driver’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand. The company is warning that driving while affected by drugs of this kind, even if they are prescribed by a doctor, is not only very hazardous, but also likely to be a criminal offence.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it illegal to drive, attempt to drive or be in control of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place when unfit through drinking or drug taking. This is not the same offence as being over the drug-driving limit, although it is possible to break both laws at the same time.

Drug test blank form with variety of medicines

If a police officer believes you are unfit to drive, they can conduct a series of roadside tests before deciding whether to take you to the police station for further tests. If you are suspected of being over the drug-driving limit, which applies to 17 substances including eight illegal drugs and nine medicines, you will have to take a roadside drug test.

Among the nine medicines that can be tested are morphine, diazepam (used to treat anxiety) and temazepam (an insomnia treatment). If you are taking any medicine that uses these drugs, GEM advises that you consult your doctor before driving, as a conviction for drug driving could land you with a minimum one-year driving ban, an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison.

Pharmacist explaining the drug to patient in the pharmacy

“You may not be aware that your driving can be compromised by medicinal drugs, so you could be breaking the law without realising,” said GEM road safety officer Neil Worth. “A conviction for drug driving carries a minimum one-year driving ban, an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison. You will have a criminal record that means you may have trouble getting a job or travelling overseas. Even once you are able to get your licence back, it will be endorsed for 11 years.

“So we cannot stress enough the importance of reading labels and seeking advice from healthcare professionals before driving. If you find that a specific remedy is likely to make you drowsy and impair your driving, then you must not drive after taking it. If you need to drive, make sure you ask a healthcare professional for a medicine that will not cause drowsy side-effects.”

Woman holding pills inside her car while driving