Drug driving

If you’re caught driving while impaired by drugs you could face a criminal record and major penalties. It will also usually lead to much higher car insurance premiums.

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 15 December 2022  | 4 mins read

Key points

  • Even taking prescription and over-the-counter medicine can lead to penalties if they affect your ability to drive
  • If convicted of drug driving, insurers will consider you a greater risk and you’ll face much higher premiums
  • A drug driving endorsement on your driving licence lasts 11 years and could impact things like travel and employment

Drugs and driving in the UK

It’s against the law to drive in the UK if you’ve taken illegal drugs or if your ability to drive is impacted by prescription or over-the-counter medication.

The severity of a drug driving offence is determined by how badly your driving is affected, the type of drug used, and the quantity you’ve taken.

And if you’re convicted you could face severe penalties, from an unlimited fine to a prison sentence of up to six months. Not to mention a criminal record.

Plus, you’ll also usually have to pay much higher car insurance premiums.

If your careless driving causes somebody to die, you could face life in prison.

How is drug driving tested?

If the police suspect a driver has drugs in their system, they can stop them and do a roadside field impairment test.

This will involve various checks, including looking to see whether the driver’s pupils are an abnormal size (a common side effect of some drugs).

The police can also ask the driver to do some simple tasks, like standing on one leg or a finger-to-nose test, to see if their abilities are affected.

And a drugalyser mouth swab test can be used to instantly check for cannabis and cocaine.

Even if you pass these roadside checks, if officers believe you’ve taken drugs you may still be taken to the police station to take part in further screening for illegal substances.

Prescription drugs and the drug driving law

Even if you’re taking prescription medication it can still be illegal to drive. In England, Scotland, and Wales you mustn’t get behind the wheel if the drug impairs your ability to drive.

It’s also an offence to drive if you’re found to have more than the specified limits of certain legal drugs in your blood and you haven’t been prescribed them.

You should always take prescribed medicine according to your doctor’s instructions or by following the advice you get from the dispensing chemist.

And talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if they prescribe you any of the following:

  • Amphetamine - for example, dexamphetamine or selegiline
  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Methadone
  • Morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs - for example, codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam

If you’re advised to take any of these drugs, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of your prescription with you in case you’re stopped by the police or are involved in an accident.

The effects of drugs on driving

Different drugs affect people differently, so the type of drug and how much you take can impact the extent that your abilities are impaired.

Driving with drugs in your system is illegal because the side effects can make you a danger on the roads.

These effects can include:

  • An inability to notice hazards
  • Much slower reactions times
  • Poor coordination
  • A lack of judgement
  • Poor perception of time and speed
  • Erratic and risk-taking behaviours
  • Being unable to concentrate properly on driving tasks
  • Experiencing tremors and dizziness
  • Feelings of confusion and paranoia

And if you’ve been drinking alcohol as well as taking drugs, the risk of having an accident or collision while driving is even more likely.

Motorists convicted of drug driving can expect to see steep increases in their insurance premiums or find difficulty in obtaining cover"
Ryan Fulthorpe, Go.Compare Motoring Expert

Penalties for drug driving

If you’re found driving with illegal drugs in your system, or driving while you’re impaired by drugs, you could face major consequences.

If you’re convicted of drug driving, you could receive:

  • A criminal record
  • A maximum prison sentence of six months (unless your driving causes a death)
  • An unlimited fine
  • An automatic driving ban for at least one year
  • An endorsement on your licence that lasts 11 years

Other problems you could face

A conviction for drug driving could also have several other knock-on effects for the future, including:

More expensive car insurance

If you’re convicted of drug driving, you can expect to see much higher car insurance premiums or you may find it difficult to get insured at all

A conviction on your licence

If you need to drive for work, a conviction on your licence may have serious consequences for your employment

Difficulty travelling overseas

A drug driving conviction could make it more difficult for you to travel to countries like the USA, so always check the country’s entry policy

Excluded types of employment

You’ll have to declare your drug driving conviction if you’re applying for work in a number of sectors, including working with children and vulnerable adults