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Drugs and driving: The prescription medication which can get you banned and even facing life imprisonment

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022

For years, there have been calls for the courts across England and Wales to have new and revised sentencing guidelines for people convicted of motoring offences. In June Section 86 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (PCSCA) come into force.

What is Section 86? 

Section 86 of the PCSCA 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


  • 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.

What it means to be ‘under the influence’?

It's illegal to drive if either:

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

Prescription and over the counter medicines

It's illegal to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.

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

You can only drive legally after taking these drugs if:

  • You’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional

  • They are not causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits.

What are the consequences of drug driving?

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, for example asking you to walk in a straight line. 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.

You could also be prosecuted if you drive in excess of the legal threshold of the above medicinal drugs and have not been prescribed them.

Furthermore, drivers who kill someone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can now face lifetime behind bars. In addition to this, your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.

However, it’s not just those convicted of motoring offences that can face consequences. Sadly I often represent clients who’ve suffered life-changing injuries as a result of collisions or represent family members of those tragically killed by drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

In both instances those I represent are left traumatised by what’s happened and how their lives have changed through no fault of their own. They require specialist legal advice to either access the specialist rehabilitation and therapies they require to try and regain as much of their independence as possible or to access support they need to come to terms with their loss. 

Other problems you could face

A conviction for drug driving also means:

  • Your car insurance costs will increase significantly

  • If you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence


I have represented many families who have lost their loved ones through the actions of drivers who kill, and I'm pleased to see these changes have been overwhelmingly well received.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Too many lives have been lost to reckless behaviour behind the wheel, devastating families…we have changed the law so that those responsible will now face the possibility of life behind bars.” 

Although the statistics show deaths relating to drug-driving have fallen in recent years, there has been an increase in people seriously injured in drug driving offences and a high number of arrests for such offences. 

The new changes in law are certainly a big step in the right direction to tackling drug driving and sends a clear message to all motorists, drive under the influence could end up with you facing life behind bars.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families following road collisions at our dedicated road accident claims section.