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Is it illegal to drive on prescription drugs?

It’s actually illegal to drive under the influence of any drugs that impair your ability to drive - including legal medications.

Is it illegal to drive on prescription drugs? Well, yes and no. It all depends on the medication. 

When we think of driving under the influence of drugs, we usually think illicit substances. But according to Health Direct, an initiative of the Australian federal government, it’s actually illegal to drive under the influence of any drugs that impair your ability to drive - including legal medications.

The NSW Road and Maritime Services (RMS) guidelines on drugs and alcohol clearly state that it’s illegal to drive while affected by drugs, but goes on to clarify that some over-the-counter and prescription drugs may be legally taken while driving while others may not.

In short, it is your responsibility as a driver to always read the labels of any medication you’re taking and to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether or not your driving will be affected. Never get behind the wheel if the label, or a medical professional, tells you that your concentration, mood, coordination or reactions as a driver could be compromised by a medication. In particular, the RMS warns that painkillers, sleeping pills, medications for allergies, some diet pills and some cold and flu medicines can impair your ability to drive.

The Northern Territory government’s website has almost identical advice for driving on prescription drugs, while the Queensland government’s website also warns that some alternative medicines, such as herbal remedies, can affect driving.

According to Access Canberra, it’s illegal to drive in the ACT while your ability is affected by illness, injury or medical treatment - and, as is the case around Australia, it’s illegal to hold a licence without reporting any permanent or long-term illness or injury that could affect your ability to drive safely.

When you do report it, you may be required to undertake a medical assessment with a GP in order to get your licence. If you’re in the ACT and unsure as to whether or not you need to report a medical condition, you can phone Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

According to the South Australian government, the common roadside saliva-swab drug tests don't detect prescription or common over-the-counter medications such as cold and flu tablets, but drivers who are impaired by drugs that are either prescription or illicit can still be prosecuted. It’s pretty safe to assume that if driving in Tasmania, Western Australia, or Victoria, you’d also be at risk of being prosecuted if you were caught driving under the influence of a prescription drug that is known to impair driving. 

For more specific information about driving with diabetes, you can visit the Diabetes Australia website and for information about driving with epilepsy, you can consult the Epilepsy Action Australia website on driving.

And always remember that, while you should consult your insurance agreement for the most accurate information, if you have a collision while under the influence of medication that impairs driving, it’s almost certain that your insurance coverage will be voided. 

This article is not intended as legal advice. You should check with your local road authority to verify the information written here is suitable to your situation before driving.

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