Driver Beware: Certain Medications Can Impair Your Ability Behind the Wheel
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine goes down,” the old song says. Just a spoonful of medicine at the wrong time, and your car could go down too! Such was the unfortunate reality of Doug, a 56-year-old accountant who had taken an over-the-counter cold medication before driving to visit a client. He didn’t know that the medicine would make him drowsy until he woke up in his car in a deep ditch by the side of the road.
Many Consumers Unaware of Risks
Most consumers are aware of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs, but many don’t realize that certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can also impair driving. Certain drugs can interfere with factors that are essential for safe driving, such as:
The effects of medications can vary among people. They are often influenced by length of use, tolerance, overall health, individual sensitivity to the drug, metabolism, age, interactions with other medications, and other factors. For instance, elderly persons process some medications differently than younger adults, which could cause these drugs to affect them more profoundly.
Use Caution With These Medications
Many medications—particularly those that affect the central nervous system—can impair your ability to drive. They may have side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, or diminished motor or judgment skills. Such medications may include:
Precautions You Can Take
In many states, it is illegal to drive while under the influence of sedating medications. But it’s important to take precautions when taking any medication. Here are some tips:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
United States Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Family Physician
Canadian Pharmacists Association
Driving when you are taking medications. National Highway Traffic Administration website. Available at: http://www.nhtsa.g.... Accessed July 11, 2012.
Some medications and driving don't mix. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm107894.htm. Updated June 29, 2012. Accessed July 11, 2012.
Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD