Return to Index
Driver Beware: Certain Medications Can Impair Your Ability Behind the Wheel
Many Consumers Unaware of Risks
- Coordination —needed for steering, braking, accelerating, and manipulating the vehicle
- Reaction time —needed to respond in time and appropriately deal with certain situations
- Judgment —helps with risk assessment, avoidance of hazards, and emergency decision-making
- Tracking —helps to stay in the lane and maintain the correct distance from other cars and obstacles
- Attention —ability to handle the high demand for information-processing
- Perception —needed for glare resistance, dark and light adaptation, and dynamic visual acuity
Use Caution With These Medications
- Pain relievers with codeine or other opiates
- Muscle relaxants
- Sedatives and tranquilizers
- Drugs used to treat high blood pressure
- Some medications used to treat depression or anxiety
Over-the-counter medications containing antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, brompheniramine, or chlorpheniramine. These medication can be found in products to treat:
- Allergies symtpoms
- Colds symptoms
- Motion sickness
- Central nervous system stimulants
- Medications administered to the eye, which can alter vision
Precautions You Can Take
- Educate yourself about the side effects of any medication (prescription or over-the-counter) or herbal supplement you take by reading the instructions carefully. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medication, and ask about possible effects on driving and what precautions you should take.
- If you are taking multiple medications or mixing medications with herbal substances, ask your doctor and pharmacist about possible interactions and side effects that could impair your driving.
- If you feel that your medication has impaired your ability to drive in any way (you feel dizzy, drowsy, light-headed, “fuzzy,” or are having visual problems), have someone else drive.
- If you plan on driving, look for over-the-counter medications that do not cause drowsiness or other side effects that could impair driving.
- Keep track of what medications are causing specific side effects that cause impairment.
- Allow your body time to adjust to new or changes in medications.
- Ask your doctor if there is an alternative to any prescription medication that is impairing your ability to drive.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration http://www.nhtsa.gov
United States Food and Drug Administration http://www.fda.gov
Canadian Pharmacists Association www.pharmacists.ca
The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca
Driver education program. Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles website. Available at: http://www.massrmv.com/rmv/jol/DriverEducationProgram.pdf. Accessed June 11, 2014.
Driving when you are taking medications. National Highway Traffic Administration website. Available at: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/medications/index.htm. Accessed June 11, 2014.
Medication and driving. AARP website. Available at: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/info-05-2010/Medication%5Fand%5FDriving.html. Accessed June 11, 2014.
Some medications and driving don't mix. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm107902.pdf. Accessed June 11, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 06/2014
- Update Date: 06/11/2014