Millions of drivers could be at risk of drug-driving charges because of side effects of their hay fever medicine.
While it is common knowledge that taking illegal drugs can make you unfit to drive, fewer people may know over-the-counter meds can put drivers at risk, too.
As many as 20 million people in the UK are thought to have hay fever, a pollen allergy.
Pollen counts have this week been at their highest since 2006 and people all over the country will be taking antihistamines to soothe their runny nose and itchy eyes.
But these medicines contain chemicals known to cause drowsiness and could make people a danger behind the wheel, according to experts at Confused.com.
Household name brand allergy medicines which may cause drowsiness include Piriton, Piriteze, Benadryl, and Clarityn.
Being caught over the drug-drive limit – even if only for for taking too many hay fever tablets – could see drivers facing a year-long ban, an unlimited fine, a criminal record or up to six months in prison.
One in ten people who drove after taking hay fever medication admit it affected their safety by blurring their vision or making them sleepy, according to a Confused.com poll
The number of people caught driving under the influence of drugs more than doubled between 2015 and 2017, to 6,382, according to the motoring website.
This includes people who have taken illegal, prescription or over-the-counter medicine which has affected their ability to drive.
More than 1,100 people have already been charged with drug driving this year, and experts expect the number to rise as more people resort to stronger hay fever pills.
In a poll of 2,000 people Confused.com found 58 per cent of hay fever-suffering motorists have driven after taking medication.
One in ten admit side effects affected their driving ability
One in ten of them admit it affected their ability to drive by blurring their vision or making them sleepy.
Antihistamines can be bought from shops and work by suppressing the body’s natural response to an allergy.
Types of antihistamine include chlorphenamine – the medical name for Piriton, hydroxyzine and promethazine, all of which carry warnings about drowsiness.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says blurred vision and slowed reactions are common side effects of chlorphenamine.
HAY FEVER MEDICINES WHICH CARRY DRIVING OR DROWSINESS WARNINGS
Some household-name branded hay fever medicines which can be bought over the counter without any prescription carry warnings about possible side effects which could affect driving, particularly if people take more than the recommended dose.
Piriton allergy tablets: ‘Chlorphenamine may cause drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision and psychomotor impairment in some patients which may seriously affect ability to drive and use machinery’
Benadryl Allergy One A Day 10mg Tablets: ‘Patients who experience somnolence [sleepiness] should refrain from driving, engaging in potentially hazardous activities or operating machinery, they should not exceed the recommended dose and should take their response to the medicinal product into account.’
Clarityn Allergy 10mg Tablets: ‘Very rarely some people experience drowsiness, which may affect their ability to drive or use machines.’
Piriteze Allergy Tablets: ‘Do not drive or operate machinery if the tablets make you feel drowsy.’
Source: electronic Medicines Compendium
A number of medicines commonly used to treat hay fever carry advice saying patients should not drive if the medicine makes them sleepy.
Patient information for Piriton, a brand-name hay fever tablet, says the medicine ‘can seriously hamper the patients’ ability to drive.’
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, says: ‘With summer comes hay fever, but this year it really is stinging a lot of drivers!
‘This ‘pollen boom’ means motorists are going to be desperately relying on their antihistamines to keep their symptoms at bay.
‘But what they may not know is that some can cause drowsiness and seriously affect their ability to drive. If in doubt, they should speak to their doctor or pharmacist for clarity.’
Some 67 per cent of the people surveyed said there should be clearer warnings on the medicines’ packets.
Consequences of drug driving can be devastating
Confused.com has launched a go-to-guide to highlight the importance of drug awareness, and how different types of drugs will affect their driving ability.
Ms Stretton adds: ‘The consequences of drug driving can be very serious.
‘Offenders are putting their lives and the lives of other road users at risk, and they could seriously damage their driving history if served with a criminal record, and see their car insurance premiums shoot up as a result.’
The Government introduced new drug driving laws in 2015, and as well as banning illegal drugs while driving, the legislation also restricts the use of medications.
The police can do on-the-spot swab tests of people if they are pulled over, to determine levels of certain drugs in their body.
Though the law is geared towards controlling tranquilisers and painkillers which are not usually found in hay fever medicines, the law can prosecute anyone who is found to be unfit because of medication they have taken.
If someone appears to be unfit to drive they may be arrested.
These roadside checks were introduced in order to catch people under the influence of banned substances including cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
However, the restrictions also include legal over-the-counter drugs which can result in drowsiness and sickness that could cause drivers to have an accident.
As pollen counts soar people may be tempted to take extra medication, but an expert from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said last year that anything more than the recommended dosage could be putting people at risk.
DRUG DRIVING AND THE LAW
It is illegal to drive if you are deemed unfit to be behind the wheel because of a drug, whether it is illegal, prescribed, or over-the-counter.
It is also illegal to drive with certain levels of criminalised drugs, such as cannabis or MDMA, or controlled drugs from a specific list, which mostly covers tranquilisers and painkillers.
Police can pull people over and do tests, such as asking you to walk in a straight line, to check whether you are fit to drive.
If they think drugs of any kind are affecting you they can do swab tests for some substances, or may arrest you and take you to a police station for a blood or urine test.
If you are found to be unfit to drive because of drugs or medications you have taken, you may be charged with drug driving.
The penalties for drug driving may include a year-long ban, an unlimited fine, a criminal record or up to six months in prison.
Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving, which will last for 11 years, and your car insurance will go up.
Prescription drugs which are controlled include amphetami
nes, clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs (ie codeine, tramadol or fentanyl), oxazepam and temazepam.
If you are taking any of these drugs, consult your doctor about driving. If you have not been prescribed them and are found to have taken enough of them you may be prosecuted, even if they are not affecting your ability to drive.