“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," the old song says. Your driving skills could go down too—if you take the wrong medicine at the wrong time. Unfortunately, this happened to Doug. He took a common cold medicine before driving to see a client. He did not know the medicine would make him sleepy. He woke up in his car in a ditch.
Many Are Unaware of Risks
Alcohol and illegal drugs can impair driving. So can certain medicines. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines. This is because some medicines interfere with:
- Coordination —to steer, stop, speed up, and control the vehicle
- Reaction time — to respond in time and deal with certain situations
- Judgment —to avoid harm and make fast choices
- Tracking —to stay in the lane and keep a safe distance from other cars and obstacles
- Attention —to be alert at all times
- Perception —to see clearly
The effects of medicines can vary among people. It may depend on length of use, age, and interaction with other medicines. For instance, older adults process some medicines differently than younger adults. This could cause medicines to affect them more.
Use Caution With These Medications
Medicines that may impair driving may include:
- Pain medicines with codeine or other opiates
- Muscle relaxants
- Sedatives and tranquilizers
- Seizure medicines
- Certain high blood pressure medicines
- Some medicines to treat depression or anxiety
Certain medicines that treat:
- Allergy symptoms
- Cold symptoms
- Motion sickness
- Certain stimulants—such as diet drugs, and pills that help you stay awake
- Medicines put in the eye—which can change vision
Precautions You Can Take
Here are some tips for being safe with your medicines:
- Know the side effects of your medicines and supplements. Read the instructions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking a new medicine. Ask about possible effects on driving.
- Be careful when taking more than one medicine. Also be careful when mixing medicines with herbal substances. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist first. Ask about possible interactions and side effects that could affect driving.
- If you feel sleepy, lightheaded, or have problems seeing, have someone else drive.
- If you plan on driving, check your over-the-counter medicines. Make sure they do not cause sleepiness or other side effects that could impair driving.
- Keep track of any medicines that cause side effects that could impair your driving.
- Give your body time to adjust to new medicines—or medicine changes.
- Ask your doctor for a medicine that would not impair your driving.
Do not stop taking medicines in order to drive. Talk to your doctor before changing doses or stopping any medicines.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
United States Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Pharmacists Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Driving evaluation in older adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/evaluation/driving-evaluation-in-older-adults. Accessed October 25, 2021.
Driving when you are taking medications. National Highway Traffic Administration website. Available at: https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/medications/index.htm. Accessed October 25, 2021.
Medication and driving. AARP website. Available at: https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/info-2013/medications-and-driving.html?cmp=RDRCT-9c2109ec-20200402. Accessed October 25, 2021.
Some medications and driving don't mix. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/some-medicines-and-driving-dont-mix. Accessed October 25, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/25/2021