Are you guilty of drug driving?

Alcohol isn’t the only culprit when it comes to dangerous driving. The issue of drug driving is receiving increasing attention. However when you think about drug driving, it likely conjures up images of revellers homeward bound after an out-of-control party or spaced-out hippies. You’re less likely to think about run of the mill mum and dad types – John Smith on his way home from work, Sue from next-door doing the school run. But are they contributing to the problem?

It seems yes, and maybe you could be too.  

The thing is, driving under the influence of drugs doesn’t just mean illicit drugs. Drug driving is when you drive under the influence of any drug that impairs your ability to control a vehicle. So along with the easily recognisable offenders such as cannabis, speed and ecstasy, mainstream drugs like cold and flu tablets, diet pills, antidepressants, sleeping pills and antihistamines, among others, can also be to blame. And while drink driving has typically been a man’s domain, it seems us ladies are just as bad as our male counterparts when it comes to driving under the influence of prescription drugs – eek.

Pills from the pharmacy seem so innocent though, don’t they? How easy is it to disregard warnings that say certain drugs may cause drowsiness etcetera and affect your ability to drive if you’ve just popped something completely legal? Surely it can’t be that serious, right? But by doing so, you may inadvertently be putting yourself and others at risk if you get behind the wheel.  

If you are one who tends to be a bit blasé about this type of thing though, you’re not alone. Research by RACQ found four in ten Queenslanders admitted to driving a car after ignoring warnings on prescription drug packets. The research also found that five times more people on the road could be affected by prescription drugs as opposed to illegal drugs. It seems an army of naïve offenders are outstripping the criminal offenders.

So while most people recognise that illicit drugs are a threat on our roads, it appears many don’t give a second thought about drugs bought from the pharmacy. To potentially explain this casual behaviour, a study published by The Australian Drug Foundation found that people perceive pharmaceutical drugs to be less risky than alcohol and illicit drugs when it comes to driving, and they generally feel uninformed on the subject.


Therefore, I would say education is an important step in tackling this issue. Perhaps doctors and pharmacists need to be more diligent in explaining the potential effects of various drugs on driving and help people understand warning signs that suggest going for a spin isn’t such a good idea. Because it is a bit of a minefield really, particularly given the effects of medication differ depending on the individual, the drug, and when you take it and what you take it with.

To be honest I can’t remember the last time a doctor or pharmacist mentioned driving when I got a prescription. Then again, I can’t remember asking about it either, so I guess it goes both ways. But with an awareness of the legal drug brigade cruising our streets, perhaps we should start asking more questions. Ignorance won’t act as a shield in a head-on collision.

It might be hard to imagine any wrongdoing when you’ve taken something perfectly legal and so easily accessible, but when you think about it, impairment is impairment. If you’re involved in a crash due to the effects of drugs, the type of drug you were on is likely to be inconsequential, and it’s sobering to think you could be found guilty of an offence. Moreover, the type of drug certainly wouldn’t soften the blow for the family of someone killed by a drug driver – they wouldn’t care less if cocaine or Codral were to blame.

So while it might seem like a downright inconvenience (particularly if the kids are already late for tennis practice), if you don’t feel right to hop behind the wheel after taking medication, there’s always another way. Take a cab, call a friend, catch the bus. Nobody wants to naively get caught out as a drug driver.