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Substance impaired driving is a sizeable and serious problem. As a health professional you can help your patients make good choices about whether or not they’re safe to drive.

Road crashes caused by substance impaired driving occur much more often in New Zealand than previously thought. People are uninformed about how medication and drugs can affect their driving.

As a health professional, you can help your patients be informed about how their medication – and other substances they may be taking – can affect their driving. You can help them make good choices about whether or not they’re safe to drive.

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What is substance impaired driving?

Substance impaired driving is when a person’s ability to drive a car is affected because they have taken a drug or medication, a combination of these or combined them with alcohol.

It’s illegal to drive while impaired and police will enforce this law.

Substance impaired driving is a sizeable and serious problem.

Five types of medications most often prescribed by New Zealand doctors make up three-quarters of those that may impair driving:

  • Analgesics
  • Antidepressants
  • Heart medications (beta blockers/calcium channel blockers)
  • Antihistamines
  • Sedatives.

Five less common prescription medications make up most of the rest:

  • Antipsychotics
  • Anti-epilepsy drugs
  • Substance dependence treatments
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Anxiolytics.

These 10 medications account for over 95 percent of prescription medications that may impair driving in New Zealand.

Talk to your patient about how their driving could be affected if they’re:

  • taking one or more of these medications, or
  • taking some of the variants sold as ‘pharmacy only’, or
  • taking over-the-counter’ medications such as antihistamines or cold and flu preparations.

Some signs or symptoms of medication impaired driving

Have the ‘safe to drive’ conversation with your patients

An Are you safe to drive? leaflet is available for doctors, pharmacists and nurses to order (via that page). Download a print friendly version [PDF, 194 KB].

Give your affected patients a copy of the ‘Are you safe to drive?’ leaflet, tick their medications and possible symptoms, and discuss the following:

Are you safe to drive brochure

  • Let your patients know if their medication could affect their driving.
  • Make sure they check for symptoms each time they drive.
  • Advise how long the effects of their medication may last.
  • Tell them whether they should avoid alcohol while taking their medication as it may multiply the risk.
  • Advise them not to stop taking their medication so they can drive.
  • Talk about the options, such as trying a different medication or dose, or taking their medication at a different time.
  • Advise them of what they need to tell their employer.

You might also want to raise one of these:

  • The decision to drive is their responsibility.
  • Reactions times are really slowed when they’re impaired.
  • ‘Impairment’ may only be temporary.
  • Other drugs like cannabis or over-the-counter medications may affect their driving.
  • Car insurance may be affected if they drive impaired when they’ve been told not to drive on strong medications.
  • Discuss alternatives to driving such as taking the bus or getting a lift. Talk about how long they may have to do this.
  • Consider the effects when they change their routine –such as evening activity or a very early start.
  • Make a plan for emergency night-time driving.

Download the Is my patient safe to drive? leaflet [PDF, 291 KB].

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