Medication and illegal drugs

It can be unsafe to drive after taking medication or illegal drugs. It can affect how you take in and process information, your reaction times and perception of reality. It can also make you more fatigued. You could harm yourself or other people.

It’s also illegal to drive when impaired, whatever the cause of the impairment (symptoms, illness, injury). Being impaired is when your body or emotions have been affected (usually temporarily) in a way that can make it unsafe for you to drive.

Talk to a health care professional (nurse, doctor, pharmacist) about any medication you’re taking (as well as any other substances such as illegal drugs or alcohol), to find out how it may affect your driving.

Drug driving law changes in March 2023 

There are law changes around driving while impaired by prescription medicines and/or illegal drugs. 

From 11 March 2023, there are new offences and penalties if you take any of 25 specific drugs above the legal limit for driving. 

These drugs could be ingredients in a range of prescription medications or illegal drug products. 

If you are prescribed medication, you need to understand and follow the instructions given to you by your doctor, pharmacist or the manufacturer of the medication.  

This is another action to help make our roads safer. In 2021, 128 people were killed and 177 seriously injured where a driver was affected by drugs and/or alcohol. 

Know if medication or illegal drugs could impair your driving

Illegal drugs impair your driving. Many prescribed and over-the-counter medications can also impair your driving, including:

  • strong painkillers
  • depression medication
  • heart medication
  • allergy medication
  • sleeping tablets
  • anti-psychotic medication
  • epilepsy medication
  • addiction treatment
  • nausea medication
  • anxiety medication.

With some medical conditions, and with older age, the likelihood of taking multiple medication at the same time increases. Different medicines can interact with one another and increase the risk of impairment.

When alcohol or illegal drugs are taken along with medicine, levels of impairment can intensify. Sometimes the impairment lasts many hours after the alcohol or illegal drugs have been consumed (even into the next day).

Check to see if you’re impaired

Before you start driving (and while you’re driving), check how you feel to see if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • feeling drowsy or sleepy
  • blurred vision
  • headache
  • feeling weak
  • slowed reactions
  • dizziness
  • nausea, feeling sick
  • unable to focus or pay attention
  • being easily confused
  • slurred speech
  • having trouble forming a sentence
  • feeling wired and overconfident (although you may not notice yourself).

If you think you have symptoms of impairment you are unsafe to drive.

Listen, or talk to people around you if you are unsure about impairment. If someone thinks you are unsafe to drive because of impairment symptoms, do not drive.

Stop (or don’t start) driving if you’re impaired

If you’re impaired, don’t start driving and consider alternative ways of getting to your destination.

If you’re already driving and you notice signs of impairment, stop driving and call for help from friends or whānau.

Seek advice from a health care professional, and if you are very unwell, call 111.

It is illegal to drive when impaired, whatever the cause of the impairment (symptoms, illness, injury).

Not driving when impaired keeps you, and those around you safe.

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