Published: 20 March 2023

Safety Information

Alert communication

New legislation about medicines that can impair driving

2 March 2023

It is against the law to drive while impaired. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the presence of impairing drugs found in drivers involved in road crashes that cause injury and death in New Zealand. New legislation has been introduced to further deter drug driving. Note that in this legislation, 'drugs' refers to both illicit drugs and prescription medicines.

New legislation

The Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Act 2022 came into force on 11 March 2023. This new legislation introduces changes to the Land Transport Act 1998 and is part of the 'Road to Zero' strategy.

The key changes are the addition of Schedule 5 and new blood tests to measure the amount (concentration) of drugs in the blood.

  • Schedule 5 contains 25 'listed qualifying drugs' (4 illicit drugs and 21 prescription medicines). These drugs have been identified as having the highest risk to road safety.
  • Blood tests will be used to measure the blood concentration of listed qualifying drugs. The blood concentration determines the type of offence, which may be a fine, demerit points, licence disqualification, or a criminal conviction.

Police will continue to stop drivers at random to check for alcohol or drug driving. If a person fails a Compulsory Impairment Test (a behavioural test to check for impairment), they will be required to take a blood test to check for the presence of drugs. With the law change, blood concentration levels will also be measured for Schedule 5 drugs.

If a qualifying drug is identified, a medical defence is available for the use of prescription medicines for drug driving offences:

  • if the driver can demonstrate that they took the medicine according to a current and valid prescription from health practitioner, and
  • they have followed any instructions from a health practitioner or manufacturer of the medicine.

Advice for drivers

  • Always take your medicine as prescribed.
  • Some medicines can impair your ability to drive by causing symptoms such as dizziness, concentration difficulties, mania, confusion, hallucinations, convulsions, visual disorders, as well as drowsiness and sedation.
  • Medicines that can impair driving include some pain relievers, sleeping aids, antidepressants, medicines used in epilepsy, allergy, eye conditions, diet pills, cold and flu medicines and some heart medicines. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if your medicine can impair driving.
  • Some medicines have been identified as having the highest risk to road safety and are included in new legislation. Check if your medicine is in Schedule 5.
  • Do not drive if your medicine affects you. Check if you have any symptoms before getting into your vehicle.
  • Some medicines may only affect you at the start of treatment or if the dose is changed. Other medicines may affect you as long as you are taking them, so you will need to try an alternative medicine if you need to drive.
  • You are likely to be impaired if you take more medicine than has been prescribed or use drugs and medicines in combination with each other or with alcohol.
  • Some medicines that are available without a prescription can also impair driving. Check the medicine package to see if there is a warning about driving or ask the pharmacist.
  • See the links below to find out about medicines and driving. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice if needed.

Advice for healthcare professionals

  • Please discuss with your patients whether their medicines (both prescription and over the counter) could impair driving.
  • Advise patients to check whether they have any side effects that could impair driving, and not to drive if these occur.
  • Check section 4.7 of the medicine data sheet for the effects of a medicine on driving.
  • Find the prescription medicines currently included in Schedule 5, for which blood concentration levels will be measured.

Further information

It is against the law to drive while impaired.

The law states that it is an offence to drive while impaired and with evidence in the bloodstream of a qualifying drug.

Qualifying drugs described in the Land Transport Act 1998 include controlled drugs and prescription medicines. Schedule 5 of the new legislation introduces 'listed' qualifying drugs, for which blood concentration levels will be measured to determine the drug-driving offence.

With the new legislation, 2 different blood tests will be used.

  • The current test, which only measures the presence of any qualifying drugs in the blood.
  • The new test, which measures the blood concentration of any listed qualifying drugs (ie, those specified in Schedule 5).

Schedule 5 has two blood concentration levels for each listed qualifying drug: tolerance and high-risk.

  • Exceeding the lower level (tolerance) is an infringement and could result in a fine or licence demerit points.
  • Exceeding the higher level (high-risk) could result in a criminal charge and the driver may be disqualified from driving or sentenced to prison.

An independent expert panel determined which illicit drugs and prescription medicines should be included in Schedule 5. Their decisions were based on the scientific literature, data from other countries and NZ data from drug-related car crashes. Schedule 5 may change over time

Regardless of whether a medicine is included in Schedule 5 or not, driving while impaired is illegal.

Medsafe website

  • Data sheets and Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) search – all prescription medicines and restricted (pharmacist-only) medicines have a data sheet, and most of them also have a CMI. These are published on the Medsafe website on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. The CMI is main information source for consumers. You can also refer to section 4.7 of the medicine's data sheet, which contains information about effects on driving.
  • Can I drive while taking medicines? – general information about medicines and driving.

Health Navigator

  • Driving and road safety – describes some health conditions and medicines that can affect driving. One of the sections (Driving and medicines) is described below.
  • Driving and medicines – contains both general and medicine-specific information. Here you can read about which medicines are most likely to affect driving, symptoms of impairment, when and how long to avoid driving and why you should not stop taking medicines or alter the dose so you can drive. A special 'Heavy transport and medication' section is included.

Waka Kotahi / NZ Transport Agency

  • Medication impaired driving – includes sections such as 'Are you safe to drive?', ‘Mixing substances’ and 'Heavy transport and medication'.
  • Medication and illegal drugs – provides information about which medicines can impair driving, symptoms of impaired driving and what to do if your medicine affects you.

New Zealand Formulary (NZF)

The NZF has information for healthcare professionals on medicines and driving.

  • For a specific medicine, see the 'Caution' or 'Patient advice' sections within the medicine monograph. Printable patient information leaflets are often available.
  • General guidance about drugs and driving is also available.
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