“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 driving skills could go down. 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 medication he took would make him drowsy until he woke up in his car in a deep ditch by the side of the road.
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.
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:
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:
Do not stop taking medications in order to drive. Talk to your doctor before adjusting doses or stopping any medications.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
United States Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Pharmacists Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
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_and_Driving.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.
Last reviewed June 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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