There has been a big rise in road deaths linked to the use of illicit or medicinal drugs, new data from the DFT has found.
In 2019, statistics showed that 5.8 per cent of road deaths involved a rider who was impaired by drugs, but in 2022 this had soared to over 10 per cent.
Separate research by the DfT showed that the number of deceased riders with ‘impairment drugs’ present increased by over 60% between 2014 and 2021.
The detection of drug use in victims of fatal traffic collisions reflects the growing use of illicit drugs in society as a whole; overall, one in 11 adults aged 18-59 admitted using illicit drugs at any time in the past year, with this number rising to one in five among 18-24 years olds.
With motorbike riding more prevalent among young people than across the wider population, this growth in drug taking is impacting in rider crash stats; while research in the UK is poor on this issue, an investigation in the US found that 44 per cent of all those killed in motorbike crashes had evidence of illicit drugs in their bloodstream at the time of the crash.
What does the law say?
It shouldn’t need saying – but we will! – that it is illegal to ride a motorcycle while unfit to do so because of taking drugs.
Traffic law makes it an offence to ride with certain drugs in your body. The police do not have to show that your riding has been impaired or made worse by the drugs; it simply requires evidence that the drug is present.
The police use roadside saliva tests to check for the presence of the most common illegal drugs, cannabis and cocaine. If they fail to get a positive result from these, but they are still convinced you are under the influence of a drug, they can seek a blood sample and test that.
Remember, one of the biggest differences between drug use and alcohol is that, relatively speaking, alcohol leaves your body after 24 hours. Recreational drugs do not, and people could test positive several days after taking them.
Our advice is simple: never ride after taking drugs. Even several days later your fine motor skills will be affected, and your decision-making ability impaired.
Remember the crash stats from the US: 44 per cent of bike fatalities had evidence of drugs in their system. Think about that.
What about legal drugs?
Where drug laws and riding become complicated is when the rider is taking legally prescribed drugs. After all, if the doctor says you should be taking them, where’s the harm?
The problem is that some prescribed drugs carry side effects that harm your ability to ride, affecting balance, co-ordination, focus and your ability to safely assess the road ahead. They can also make you drowsy.
If you are prescribed any drugs by your doctor, or buy any over the counter medicines from a pharmacist, tell them you ride a bike first. They may advise you not to ride while taking them, or suggest an alternative drug that doesn’t have the same effects.
The list of prohibited drugs below includes many that are taken legitimately – but if they are in your system when challenged by the police the rider is still breaking the law, and their presence carries the same penalties as if they were so-called party drugs. Just a few to be aware of include:
- Amphetamine, for instance dexamphetamine or selegiline
- Flunitrazepam / Rohypnol
- Opiate and opioid-based drugs
This list is not exhaustive. If in doubt, ask.
What about allergies?
Sufferers from the most common allergies such as hay fever often take Piriton - or similar - medicines. However, Piriton uses a drowsy or sedating antihistamine which contains chlorphenamine.
It’s important you don’t ride while taking Piriton-style medicine.
Instead look out for alternatives such as Piriteze, which is a non-drowsy or non-sedating antihistamine which contains cetirizine hydrochloride.
Again, if you are unsure, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Oh, and always read the label!