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Common Medications That Can Impair Driving

Driving may seem like second nature, but it’s a complex skill that requires quick judgement, reaction time, and motor skills. Unfortunately, there are several over-the-counter and prescription drugs that may affect a driver’s ability to navigate the road effectively. Here are some of the most common medications that impair driving:


Itchy, watery eyes, and runny noses are unpleasant, which is why many Americans find relief in antihistamines during allergy season. These pills can have negative side effects. Certain classes of antihistamine – called diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – can lead to brain fog, confusion, and drowsiness. Operating a vehicle while taking this medication is nothing to sneeze at – in fact, it may lead to a traffic ticket or accident.

Nyquil and Cold Medicine

The common cold may not have a cure, but some over-the-counter medicines can temporarily alleviate symptoms. But cold medicines that contain alcohol – Nyquil is a common example – can cause drowsiness and affect your ability to drive. Save these medications for nighttime, and always use them as intended.

Cough medicines that contain a substance called dextromethorphan also cause drowsiness. Medication containing this compound is often marked “DM,” so read each label carefully.

Pain Medication and Prescription Pills

Some prescription pain pills, such as narcotics, can affect your ability to drive safely. To see if one of your prescription medications affect your ability to operate a vehicle, read the label or talk to a pharmacist or physician.

Prescription medications that impair driving include:

  • Tranquilizers
  • Some antidepressants
  • Decongestants
  • Sleep aids
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Diarrhea medications
  • Some ADD/ADHD medications

This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you’re unsure of a medication’s side effects, talk to your doctor.

What Can I Do About My Medications?

It’s important to realize that most people can drive safely while taking common medications. There are a few, like the ones outlined above, that can increase your risk of impairment. In some cases, you might not even be aware of the negative effects. If you notice drowsiness or “brain fog” as a side effect of any medication, take the following prevention steps:

  • Have an honest conversation with your doctor. When you receive a prescription a new drug, ask about its side effects. Since some medications have a synergistic effect, remember to bring a list of medications with you to every doctor’s appointment – including those you take over the counter.
  • Ask your health care provider if it’s ok to drive. Medications affect everyone in different ways, especially in the beginning. If you notice an effect on your alertness, your doctor may be able to adjust the dose or change it to a medicine that doesn’t cause drowsiness.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Learn how your body reacts to your medicine, and keep track of how each make you feel. If you notice symptoms such as drowsiness, weakness, or blurry vision, call your doctor or pharmacist.

Know the Signs

Each medication has different side effects, and drowsiness is one of the most common. Even if a medicine doesn’t list drowsiness as a known side effect, it may affect you differently. According to one clinical pharmacist, a medication’s drowsy effect can manifest within an hour of taking it, and some drugs last for up to eight hours. That’s why it’s important to keep track of which medicines affect you.

If medications play a role in a car accident, it may affect your insurance rates – or worse, make you privy to a lawsuit. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your health care provider.

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