How Medications Can Affect Your Driving Ability
Driving is a mentally and physically complicated process requiring a number of tasks from the person behind the wheel. It’s necessary to be alert, to be able to concentrate, and to be able to react quickly and in a coordinated manner any time something happens while you’re driving your car. Over-the-counter medications come with warning labels that encourage drivers to pay extra attention to the potential side effects. Prescription medications often come with an even more complicated list of warnings, and drivers may even be charged with a DUI violation.
The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that people aged 65-79 receive more than 27 prescriptions per year. Taking five or more daily medications can greatly affect one’s ability to drive safely. Learn more about how medications can affect your driving ability.
How Medications Impact Driving
Risks from daily medications while driving include:
- Slowed reaction time
- Trouble concentrating or distraction
While driving carries with it freedom and a sense of personal responsibility, understanding the potential side effects of driving under the influence of prescription drugs is important for anyone, particularly as you age.
Any medication has the ability to cause side effects that can negatively impact your driving ability. Allergy medications, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers are particular culprits that can cause serious problems when you’re behind the wheel. Those side effects are often increased by being combined with other medications, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to disclose every medication you’re taking to your doctor and your pharmacist. Combining your medications with alcohol can severely intensify the side effects.
Potential Side Effects of Medications
Medications can often make you drowsy behind the wheel. Nodding off in traffic is never a good idea, and it’s a serious risk when taking meds. They can also limit your attention span, cause problems with your reaction time, or make it difficult for you to concentrate well enough to remember how you should respond. Blurred vision, fainting, nausea, and excitability are also known side effects of many medications. Because these side effects are unpredictable, it’s important to never drive until you’re sure how a medication will impact your body.
If you’re going to be driving, however, there are several medications you should not take unless you know how they impact your body and that you won’t have negative side effects from them. These include:
- Allergy medications (that cause drowsiness)
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Anti-depressant products (containing codeine)
- Pain relievers
- Sleeping pills
It’s also important to be wary if you’re taking diet pills or consuming other stimulants.
If You Must Drive with Medications
If you have no choice but to drive while taking medications, make sure you know how they will impact you first. Discuss your need to drive with your doctor, who may be able to change your dose in order to moderate side effects or choose a medication that is known to cause fewer potential problems.
Keep in mind that there are also alternatives to driving yourself: minimizing your need to get around, taking rides from friends and family, using public transportation, and senior care services that are designed to provide transportation. These are all viable options that are much safer than driving yourself if you’re experiencing these negative effects.
When starting a new medication or supplement, always make sure you know how it will impact you before you head out on the road, and keep in mind that as you age, your body’s response to those medications may change. If you’ve been prescribed something new, test it out before you drive.
Have medications affected your or a loved one’s driving ability? Share your stories with us in the comments below.
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