Motorists using prescribed painkillers such as morphine and codeine could be charged with ‘drug driving’ under a new proposed law designed to keep dangerous hard drug users off British Roads.
Ministers have confirmed that opioid-based medicines may be covered by the new offence, even if they have been prescribed by a doctor and the recommended dose is taken.
The Government is introducing the new law amid growing concerns about drug-users behind the wheel.
If successful, it will make it easier for police to take action by making it an offence for motorists to drive with controlled drugs in their body.
Ministers have insisted that they are targeting those who use the road after using Class-A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. However, critics have complained that the measures could hit innocent motorists who take legitimate painkillers to ease often chronic conditions.
The British Medical Association warned that ‘blanket bans’ on motorists driving after taking prescription medicine could ‘meet considerable legal challenge unless there is clear evidence that links exposure to known levels of driving impairment, as is the case with alcohol.’
Baroness Hamwee, a Liberal Democrat peer, complained that the proposals could punish motorists who took their prescribed medication at the doses recommended by their doctor: ‘If the drug driving limit is set at zero, this will disqualify thousands of people taking very common medicines’.
Dr Beverly Collett, chair of the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition, welcomed the move to criminalise driving while intoxicated by recreational drugs, but added: ‘Opioids and other medications are taken by people living in pain and pain itself can cause cognitive impairment.’
The Transport Research Laboratory has estimated that drugs are a key factor in nearly a quarter of fatal road accidents.
A 2009 study funded by the Government found that one in 10 young motorists admitted to driving after taking illegal drugs.
Department for Transport officials insisted the existing legislation on driving while impaired by drugs covered both illegal and prescribed substances. Mike Penning, Transport Minister, said the new offence allowed motorists a statutory defence where they had taken medicines containing specified controlled drugs in accordance with medical advice, although they could have go to before a court to plead.