Posted on 18/05/2012
A motor law specialist is calling for clearer labels on prescribed drugs and medicines to help drivers avoid falling foul of new laws to be unveiled this week.
Matt Reynolds of Just Motor Law believes that drivers could easily fall foul of the drug driving laws, which will cover the abuse of prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs.
The law is being introduced to tackle the issue of drug driving, which David Cameron has identified as a key priority. Latest NHS figures show that around 900 million prescription items, up 70% since 2000, are dispensed every year or 17.8 items per person - of which experts say around a quarter of the drugs could potentially impair driving by inducing fatigue.
But solicitor Mr Reynolds is concerned that the new law doesn’t address the warnings given within the packaging by manufacturers of prescription medicine.
He said: “With more motorists than ever taking prescribed medicines it logically follows that more people are potentially driving while detrimentally affected by legal drugs, and our recent caseload certainly reflects that.
“Labels on some medicines indicate that they ‘may cause drowsiness’ but drugs manufacturers should consider going further. Where appropriate to the particular medication, the government should consider ensuring that patients are warned that when taking a prescription drug, a driver may be so affected that he cannot assess his own impairment. The labeling could also urge caution, perhaps explaining that driving while under the influence of medication can have legal implications for the patient.
“If all medications that can cause impairment have warnings clearly printed on, then both drivers and the public will have clear guidelines as to the very real dangers inherent in driving while taking medication of this kind. As the current labelling stands, some drivers do not even realise that their judgment and faculties could be so affected. This situation could lead to serious accidents and even fatalities.
“Ultimately every motorist is legally responsible for their actions, but clearer labeling on prescribed or over-the-counter drugs can greatly help them make the right decision which in some cases will be not to drive in the first place.
“Just Motor Law has represented clients who were properly taking prescribed medicine for conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. They felt absolutely fine for driving yet police evidence showed that in fact their driving was impaired by the medicine.
“Drug-driving carries the same punishment as drink-driving so genuine personal hardship can result from being convicted such as losing your job. Millions of UK motorists could potentially find themselves in this position.”
The new offence, which will be included in the Crime, Communications and Court Bill, will be enforced by drug screening devices which are expected to be in place by the end of the year. The roadside device will require an initial saliva sample, which, if positive, will be followed by a second test at a police station. The tests will be able to screen for up to 13 illegal and prescription drugs, although a decision still has to be made on which drugs should be included under the legislation.
Common medicines prescribed for pain relief, blood pressure problems, anxiety, depression, panic disorders or even some cold and flu remedies bought from a chemist can result in significant and sudden fatigue.