Too Sick to Drive

Too Sick to Drive

How do I know if I am too sick to drive?

The Department for Transport recently released figures that an average of four motorists a day were arrested for drug driving offences in 2015. This follows changes to the law back in 2013.

These figures raised eyebrows but also highlighted which drugs fall within this law, (of which we’ll come to a bit later). However, it also questions if and when people are prepared to drive when they wouldn’t undertake other normal routines.

In a survey conducted by Zuto last year, we found that that while a third (36%) of motorists would consider themselves too ill to work, over half (58%) of Brits would still get behind the wheel.

UK workers took an average of 4.3 sick days last year. When we’re ill, it’s normal to seek prescription or over-the-counter medication to get rid of our ailments. But when we’re ill and it’s important to consider if the medications we're taking, could affect different areas of our life, like driving.

You should always consult your doctor if you're not sure if you should be driving while unwell or on medication. Even if you think you may be able to drive with a particular illness, it will be wholly dependent on your individual situation, and it's also worth checking your medication, as they may carry a warning advising you against driving.

Yorkshire GP Dr Jonathan Taylor has the following advice for anyone considering driving while sick:

"Safe driving requires concentration and good reactions. Both can be significantly reduced, even by just a relatively minor illness. It is important to remember that over-the counter medications can also cause drowsiness."

Concerned about a specific condition? Read on for more information on common illnesses that could affect our ability to drive.


Flu causes fever, a cough, sore throat, a runny or blocked nose (and sometimes, somehow, both at once), headaches, extreme fatigue, aching muscles, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Flu treatments come in two forms – preventative, which is the flu vaccination, and symptom-easers, which won’t do anything to kill the flu virus, but will make you feel less like death-warmed-up while your immune system does its job. They’ll ease your aching limbs and take the pain of your sore throat away while you spend your days in bed recovering.

With slower reactions that can border on falling asleep, as well as the potential for sneezing fits or an emergency stop to throw up, driving with the flu can be dangerous. It'll definitely keep you away from work, so it should keep you off the roads too.

Eye Infection

Eye infections, the most common being conjunctivitis, can have a variety of causes, but the effects are often the same. They'll cause itchiness, a sticky discharge from the eye, and the potential for blurry vision if it gets really bad.

Treatment usually involves keeping your eye clean and waiting for it to get better. Eye drops may be prescribed, which can cause blurred vision for a short time. Wearers of contacts should switch back to glasses again, until the infection heals.

Unless it's particularly bad, an eye infection won’t keep most of us out of work. Provided you're caring for it correctly, wearing glasses if you need them, and don't drive immediately after using eye drops, an eye infection shouldn't affect your driving too much.

Ear Infection

Ear infections can be incredibly painful, will affect your hearing, and can cause dizziness and balance problems too which can lead to nausea and vomiting. The fun ways our bodies are connected means ear infections can also affect the eyes – resulting in possible blurred or double vision.

Ear infections are another thing that generally heal on their own, but if symptoms last longer than a week, then it's time to consult your doctor. Treatments will focus on easing the symptoms, and can include medication for nausea, which can create drowsiness.

The pain, nausea and dizziness of an ear infection is often enough to keep those afflicted off work for a few days. Add to that the potential for sleepiness caused by medications and the effects on your driving could be significant, and potentially dangerous.

Broken Arm

A broken arm will see you in a cast, with reduced movement, and potentially weaker grip in the hand affected. This means you might have a harder time holding the wheel, or changing gear. You may need a sling, which will reduce mobility even more. And it will hurt, of course.

If you have a broken arm, you may be on pain medication, which will reduce reaction times and may cause drowsiness.

After an initial recovery period, it's common for people to head back to work with broken limbs. Whether you can drive or not will depend on how much movement you have, how much medication you are taking, and if that medication makes you feel drowsy. If you can still handle the car safely, you might be okay behind the wheel.


A migraine is more than a bad headache – the pain can be incapacitating. Nausea and vomiting are common, vision is often impaired, and mental processing is slowed. Heightened sensitivity to light and sound can also be a side effect.

Medications used to treat migraines are powerful painkillers, which will cause drowsiness and reduce reaction times, making it unsafe to drive.

When you have a migraine, it can be hard to even get out of bed and into work – so there's no way you should be behind the wheel.

Sickness and Diarrhoea

Both of these lovely illnesses are usually just the signs of a simple stomach bug. But, if they persist for more than a week, they could be the sign of something more serious. Whatever the cause, a fever and headache will not be far behind, you’ll start to feel weak as your body rejects food, and you won't want to be too far from a toilet either.

Treatment is usually bed rest and plenty of water. Although treatments like Loperamide can be prescribed, fortunately, this has very few side effects.

It's usually a common courtesy to ourselves and our co-workers to stay off work when we come down with these symptoms, because bugs of this type are highly contagious. Whether you can drive will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Long trips are probably best avoided (due to lack of access to a toilet) but short spells behind the wheel should be okay.

Kidney Infection

A kidney infection can cause a high level of pain and discomfort, as well as a fever, chills, fatigue, nausea and diarrhoea. They can be very physically draining, which could make driving a struggle.

Treatment usually involves antibiotics. Check the label when you get them to see if there’s a risk of side-effects that may prevent you from driving. However, it's quite rare for antibiotics to have such an effect, so you should be okay.

The physical weakness kidney infections cause will slow your reactions, and you certainly won't be up to heading into work or getting behind the wheel.

Glandular Fever

Glandular fever generally causes a sore throat and swollen glands, a high fever, and extreme fatigue. It may also mean aches and pains in your muscles, rashes, swelling and jaundice, which usually mean you'll end up in bed for a short time anyway.

There isn't really a treatment for glandular fever other than bed rest, plenty of fluids, and painkillers to reduce some of the symptoms. It generally clears up after a few weeks, though some fatigue can linger for a little longer.

At its worst, glandular fever will keep you out of work and in bed, and you won't have the strength to get behind the wheel. As your symptoms heal, you will be able to drive as soon as you feel well enough.

Back Pain

The main symptom of back pain is… pain in your back. But it could extend to your neck or limbs as well. Commonly caused by an injury or strain, it can completely knocks you off your feet, depending on the pain you’re in.

Back pain can be short-term, or it can be a longer-lasting issue that’s caused by chronic damage to vertebrae, for example. Even less severe pain can still require pain management medication, which can cause drowsiness.

The treatment for serious back pain is very strong painkillers, which can slow reactions and cause dizziness. These painkillers will have safe limits for driving, so consult your GP and check the label carefully.

Driving with back pain will depend on its severity, and for many with chronic back pain it's just a fact of life. A good rule of thumb is to walk to your car and see if you can sit in the driving seat for more than a few minutes. If you can’t, you clearly shouldn’t be driving.


Sciatica is the name for pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve – the longest in your body. It starts at your pelvis and goes down to your feet, so your back and legs can be affected. Pain from sciatica can be mild, but can also be incapacitating. If your legs are affected, you could experience weakness or stiffness, which could affect your ability to use the pedals.

Treatment for sciatica is generally over-the-counter painkillers, exercise, cold packs, and rest. Serious cases may need stronger painkillers, which can cause side effects, such as drowsiness, that will affect your ability to drive.

If your sciatica is manageable enough for you to get through a day at work, and doesn't affect your legs, you might be okay to drive. If it's bad enough to stop you from sitting at your desk for the day, it’s probably safe to say it’ll also be too painful to drive.

The serious offenders

If someone is stopped and suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, a roadside test will determine if there is any cannabis and cocaine in the bloodstream. It is reported that new technology will look to introduced which will detect more drugs can be at the roadside.

Right now, tests to determine other illegal drugs such as ecstacsy, LSD, ketamine and heroin have to be carried out at a police station and a suspect can be requested to attend the station in order for these tests to be completed.

In addition, the law covers eight drugs associated with medicinal use including morphine used for pain relief, diazepam, clonazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, oxazepam and temazepam for insomnia or anxiety and methadone, commonly used to treat drug addiction. Further inclusions are expected.

The penalty The penalties for being found guilty of driving under the influence of drugs is significant; loss of license for a year, a fine of up to £5,000 and potential imprisonment. So, with so much at stake should we be more vigilant?

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