Driving after an anaesthetic


If you are having a day case anaesthetic – in other words you are going home the same day as your operation – you will receive instructions from the hospital telling you that you have to be taken home, have a responsible adult stay overnight and that you should not drive. Some patients ask for more comprehensive advice and I thought it would be worth a blog.


Driving after any operation is an offence if you cannot operate the controls properly or your reactions are significantly impaired due to drugs. So even if you have a local anaesthetic you may not be able to drive if the operation prevents you undertaking an emergency stop due to pain in the legs or even being able to look over your shoulder at junctions.


Both sedation and general anaesthetics affect reaction time and the ability to analyse and interpret situations. In this respect they are similar to alcohol and indeed alcohol has been used as an anaesthetic in the past. For this reason people who make decisions in respect of their work such as lawyers should be careful about undertaking any work until they are off all drugs and for at least a further 24 hours. Equally, driving within 24 hours is unwise.


There are two other points to consider: first, your insurance policy may specify that you cannot drive for a certain period of time after an operation or even that you have to obtain the advice of your GP. Although there may be no scientific basis for this, driving in breach of these requirements would mean that you are not insured and therefore driving illegally


Second, both Scotland and England and Wales have now introduced limits on certain drugs and driving with excess level of these drugs even when they are prescribed by a doctor is a criminal offence. You do not need to have committed a moving traffic offence: merely being in charge of a vehicle can result in prosecution. Anaesthetic agents themselves are not included although the police could potentially advise prosecution if they believed your driving was impaired. Cocaine, which is often used as a local anaesthetic especially for nasal operations, is included as are the benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium. Opiates are also included; this includes not only morphine and fentanyl but also oxycodone, tramadol and codeine. The last two drugs are particularly worrying because they are converted in the body to opiates and the amount of opiate that is produced will depend on your genetic make-up. As a result, the only safe approach is not to drive until you have been off all these drugs for at least 24 hours and for 48 hours if you have been on them for more than a few days. If you feel at all woozy, drowsy or ’high’ it is likely still illegal to drive


Finally, as a commercial pilot it is important for me to point out if you fly either professionally or as a hobby you are required to report any operation to your regulator and you cannot fly or exercise your license in any way until you have formal approval. In the UK the report should be made to your AME who is empowered to advise you when you can fly. It is also important to remember that any drug usually results in a loss of privileges for 14 days after commencement or a significant change in dose so you will need to have stopped antibiotics and pain killers as well. This also needs to be discussed with your AME