Hay fever boom: sufferers hit with side effects behind the wheel

More than 6,300 drivers were caught driving under the influence of drugs in 2017 – although only 779 were convicted

Posted on 25 Jun 2018

Over half (58%) of hay fever-suffering motorists have driven after taking medication – with a tenth (10%) admitting it affected their driving ability.
More than two thirds (67%) of UK drivers think there should be clearer warnings on packaging of medication that can affect a motorist’s ability to drive.
Confused.com launches go-to guide to highlight the effects of legal and illegal drugs on driving ability.
One in 10 (10%) UK drivers admit to driving under the influence of drugs – more than a quarter (28%) of which took illegal substances before jumping behind the wheel. 

In the peak of hay fever season and a reported pollen boom, new research reveals that sufferers are being hit with side effects that are impairing their driving ability, and putting them at risk of being pulled over for drug-driving.

The research by Confused.com comes as new data obtained by the driver savings site through Freedom of Information requests to 31 UK police forces reveals 6,382 drivers were caught driving under the influence of drugs in 2017, up from 2,677 (138%) in 2015(1). This includes consumption of illegal, prescription and over-the-counter drugs which could have an impact on a motorist’s ability to drive, such as chlorphenamine, hydroxyzine or promethazine – all types of antihistamines to curb symptoms of hay fever.

This year (2018) to-date, police forces have already recorded a whopping 1,106 offences of drug-driving(1), but given the hay fever warning issued by the Met Office(3) and reported pollen boom, more motorists may just be resorting to the stronger meds to keep their symptoms at bay.

But what drivers may not know is that some types of antihistamine, particularly older types, will in fact make you sleepy, and therefore are not necessarily safe to take before jumping behind the wheel. Further research by Confused.com found that over half (58%) of hay fever-suffering motorists have driven after taking medication to help their symptoms. Worryingly, a tenth (10%) of these admit it affected their ability to drive, including making them drowsy, their reactions slower or compromising their vision. It’s no wonder more than two thirds (67%) of UK drivers think there should be clearer warnings on packaging of medication that can affect a motorist’s ability to drive. Similarly, a further two thirds (65%) think doctors and pharmacists should be offering clearer advice when prescribing certain medications.

To fully understand the impact of drugs on a motorist’ ability to control a car or read the road ahead, Confused.com has launched a handy guide which outlines the effects of illegal, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as information on drug-driving convictions.

But as the guide shows, it isn’t just these pills that can make you slightly sleepy that other road users should be worried about. Illegal drugs are also known to have side effects which can seriously impair a person’s driving ability. In total, one in 10 (10%) UK drivers admit to driving after taking drugs of some sort – more than a quarter (28%) of which did so after taking illegal drugs. And the effects these had are seriously concerning, with more than a quarter (27%) admitting they felt energised – which would put them at risk of speeding. More than one in six (17%) admit it made them feel drowsy. And with festival season in full swing, road users should be particularly cautious as one in 10 (11%) of those who’ve taken illegal drugs before driving did so at a music festival. Although, this isn’t the most popular spot for drug consumption, as almost two thirds (65%) admit driving after taking illegal drugs at a friend’s house, or in their own home (30%).

And there are some regions in the UK which has seen a particularly high number of drug-driving offences. In particular, drivers in the West Midlands should be extra cautious on the roads, having seen the highest number of drug-driving offences in 2017. In total, 1,231 drivers were caught driving under the influence of drugs in the region in 2017, with West Mercia accounting for the most number of arrests in the year. The East of England also saw a worrying number of offences, with 1,186 drivers caught in the region last year.

Some also think it is unfair that drivers are penalised for taking medication, with more than a fifth (22%) wanting to see less severe penalties for those caught over the limit with prescription drugs in their system.

However, regardless of which drug a driver has taken, the penalty is one that every motorist would want to avoid. Those caught drug-driving could face a minimum of one year driving ban, an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record. But worryingly, almost nine in 10 (86%) drivers aren’t aware of this. Perhaps with more education around the punishment, as well as the effects of drugs, fewer drivers will be on the receiving end of these harsh penalties.

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.

“But it isn’t just antihistamines that can affect them while behind the wheel. In fact different drugs, both legal and illegal, have different side effects, ranging from drowsiness to nausea, to loss of vision. So to give some guidance to drivers, Confused.com has launched a go-to-guide to drive home the importance of drug awareness, and how illegal, prescribed and over-the-counter drugs will affect their driving ability.

“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. If drivers are already seeing sky high premiums they should shop around on sites like Confused.com to try and find the best deal for them.”


Notes to editors

Unless otherwise stated, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of Confused.com. This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults who drive (nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 7th June and 12th June 2018.

1. Confused.com issued a Freedom of Information request to the UK’s 45 police forces (of which 31 responded) requesting the following information:
How many motorists in your force area were charged with driving under the influence of drugs in 2015, 2016, 2017 and so far in 2018 (Jan – March). Please provide a breakdown for each year.
Can you please provide a breakdown of the different substances/drugs that motorists were caught using whilst driving in the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and so far in 2018 (Jan – March). Please provide a breakdown for each year.
If possible, please further categorise these for type of drugs, including illegal, prescription or over the counter medication.
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/criminal-justice-system-statistics-quarterly-december-2017 ‘Motoring data tool’
3. https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/2018/pollen-survey

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