The implementation of per-se limits for driving under the influence of benzodiazepines and related drugs: No increased risk for arrest during therapeutic use in Norway

Traffic Inj Prev. 2020;21(2):122-126. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2020.1724977. Epub 2020 Mar 2.


Objective: To investigate whether the use of recommended therapeutic doses of medicinal drugs has led to suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) after implementation of legislative limits for illicit and medicinal drugs in 2012.Methods: Data from suspected drug-impaired drivers apprehended by the police from 2013 to 2015 were selected from the Norwegian Forensic Toxicology Database. The blood samples had been analyzed for benzodiazepines (BZDs), z-hypnotics, opioids, stimulants, certain hallucinogens, and alcohol. Drivers who tested positive for one BZD or a z-hypnotic only, were included in the study. Drug concentrations measured in their blood samples were compared to the maximal obtainable steady state concentrations if the drug had been used in accordance with the recommendations set by the Norwegian Directorate of Health.Results: BZDs or z-hypnotics were found in 10 248 samples, representing 59.6% of the total number of drivers arrested for suspected DUID (n = 17 201). Only one BZD or z-hypnotic with a blood drug concentration above the legislative limit was detected in 390 (2.3%) of the total number of samples. Clonazepam was the most frequently detected BZD (n = 4656), while as a single drug above the legislative limit, it was detected in only 3.6% (n = 168) of the clonazepam-positive blood samples. For drivers testing positive for only one z-hypnotic, drug concentrations above the legislative limit were found in 27% (n = 55) of the blood samples that tested positive for zolpidem and 12.4% (n = 53) of the samples that tested positive for zopiclone. In total, 155 subjects out of 10 248 testing positive for BZDs or z-hypnotics displayed concentrations above the legislative limit but within the concentration ranges that are expected when taking recommended therapeutic drug doses, and 77 below the legislativel limit.Conclusions: The results show that the implementation of legislative limits for BZDs and z-hypnotics may have contributed to DUID suspicion for a small group of patients using therapeutic drug doses; only 1.3% of the suspected DUID offenders had concentrations of only one of those drugs in-line with recommended therapeutic dosing.

Keywords: Benzodiazepines; driving; per-se limits; therapeutic use; z-hypnotics.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Azabicyclo Compounds / blood*
  • Azabicyclo Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / blood*
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Driving Under the Influence / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Male
  • Norway
  • Piperazines / blood*
  • Piperazines / therapeutic use
  • Risk


  • Azabicyclo Compounds
  • Piperazines
  • zopiclone
  • Benzodiazepines