Is it okay to drive while on sick leave?

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There is a traffic jam on Austria’s roads and doctors’ waiting rooms – everywhere, people are coughing and sniffling. Even if one would prefer to pull the covers over one’s head in such a condition, it is sometimes almost unavoidable that one gets into the car: For example, for trips to the doctor, to the pharmacy, or the supermarket to stock up on essential groceries.

But is it even okay to get behind the wheel while on sick leave?
“As with any car journey, it is a question of whether you are fit to drive, i.e., physically and mentally in the condition to drive a vehicle,” says Ursula Zelenka, a lawyer at ÖAMTC. For example, this can be the case if you are on sick leave because of a skin rash but not if you suffer from a cold, fever, and chills because of an infection. So ill leaving per se does not preclude driving.

Sebastian Obrecht, the press spokesman for the ARBÖ, sees another indication for orientation in whether the doctor has prescribed bed rest. If so, ordering a cab for urgent errands or asking someone to drive you is better.

It must be clear that when you are sick, regardless of your condition, you cannot travel or go on excursions as you would in your free time – and that is about your employer. “Even if the doctor has not ordered bed rest, activities that counteract ‘getting well’ must be refrained. If one disobeys this order, it can lead to dismissal in extreme cases,” Obrecht says.

Can you drive a vehicle despite a positive corona test?
In principle, yes. For people with a positive Sars-CoV-2 result, a ten-day traffic restriction instead of quarantine or seclusion has been in effect since August 1. Therefore, an FFP2 mask must be worn in private transport when other persons are in the vehicle. In addition, any risk of infection to other persons should be minimized by other appropriate protective measures, such as, in particular, regular ventilation.

However, if one is infected with the coronavirus and has symptoms, it again depends on whether one is fit to drive. “If you are not feeling well if the symptoms distract you from the traffic situation and restrict your fitness to drive, the same applies in the case of a corona infection: don’t get behind the wheel,” says Martin Hoffer, head of legal services at ÖAMTC.

Can medication affect driving ability?
Care should also be taken with medications that hurt driving ability. Common side effects include dizziness, restlessness, fatigue, or impaired reaction time. “Just because your doctor has prescribed you a medication, that’s not a license to get behind the wheel after taking it,” says Zelenka. That’s why it’s essential to read the package insert carefully, especially to check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Ignorance about the effect of a drug does not protect against possible legal consequences. Medicines that can impair driving ability are marked with the warning “Caution: This medicine may impair your ability to react and drive” and with a danger sign.

Do cyclists also have to be fit to drive?
In this case, too, it is a question of fitness to drive, which, incidentally, applies not only to car and motorcycle drivers but also to cyclists: If the police stop you because you are going conspicuously, they can prevent you from continuing your journey and temporarily take away your driver’s license, summarizes Armin Kaltenegger, head of the “Law & Standards” department at the Austrian Road Safety Board.

If the executive determines that driving ability is impaired due to taking medication (without narcotic drugs), an administrative fine of up to 726 euros can be expected. Other possible measures may include a review of the health suitability for driving a motor vehicle and confiscating or restricting the driving license.

And also not to forget: In an accident, (contributory) negligence due to medication impairment can also be established.

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