These Medications Can Dangerously Affect Driving

Know your state's laws and the side effects of your medications before you grab your car key.

Close up view of elderly woman's hands as she sorts prescription medication
Your doctor or pharmacist can help you determine if any of your prescriptions make it dangerous to drive.
Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock

Two-thirds of senior drivers age 65 and older take five or more daily medications that can affect their ability to drive safely.

Prescription and over-the-counter medications come with warnings about possible side effects, such as drowsiness or risks related to driving, yet many people ignore them because they’ve never had a problem. But side effects for an individual drug can change when combined with other medications, especially new prescriptions.

Medications known to impact driving include:

  • Tranquilizers;
  • Narcotic pain pills;
  • Sleep medicines;
  • Some antidepressants;
  • Cough medicines;
  • Antihistamines;
  • And decongestants.

State Laws on Medication Use and Driving

“Driving under the influence” doesn’t just refer to the influence of alcohol. Most state laws do not differentiate between alcohol and other drugs when it comes to impaired driving. A driver debilitated by prescription or over-the-counter medications could just as easily be arrested and charged with a DUI offense as someone driving under the influence of alcohol.

Penalties of impaired driving while using alcohol or any other drug, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, can include heavy fines, jail sentences, and revocation of license. Make sure the medications you take will not affect your driving by talking to your doctor.

How to Ensure Your Medications Aren't Affecting Your Driving

  1. Read the fine print. If a medication you’re taking is labeled, “Do not use while operating heavy machinery,” let someone else drive.
  2. Inform your doctor about nonprescription drugs you take. These include alcohol, which can interact with some medications and cause serious side effects.
  3. Discuss your medication and its effects on driving with your doctor or pharmacist.
  4. Always check with your doctor before stopping any medication.
  5. If any medication makes you feel sleepy or disoriented, don’t drive.
  6. Ask about your medication and take notes. Ask your pharmacist if any of your medications impact your ability to drive. Record your prescription and over-the-counter medications in one central location and confirm if any drug side effects or interactions between medications may impair your abilities.