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How Medications Can Affect Your Driving Ability

A Place for Mom Staff
By A Place for Mom StaffAugust 22, 2018

Last Updated: August 22, 2018

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 react quickly any time something happens while you’re driving your car. Over-the-counter and prescription medications both come with warning labels that encourage drivers to pay attention to any potential side effects that can impact one’s ability to drive safely.

Taking five or more daily medications can greatly affect one’s driving ability and the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that people aged 65-79 receive more than 27 prescriptions per year. Read more about how medications can affect your driving ability so you can stay safe on the road.

How Medications Can Impact Your Driving Ability

Driving is a personal responsibility and understanding the side effects of driving under the influence of prescription drugs is important for anyone, particularly as we age.

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Risks from daily medications while driving include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Trouble concentrating or distraction

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 when 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.

The 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, excitability, fainting and nausea 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 that you should not take unless you are sure you won’t have negative side effects from them.

These include:

  • Allergy medications (that cause drowsiness)
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Anti-depressant products
  • Pain relievers (containing codeine)
  • Sleeping pills

It’s also important to be wary if you’re taking diet pills or consuming other stimulants.

What to Do If You Must Drive While Taking Medication

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 family and friends, 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? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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