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Medications and Driving Safely

Safe driving takes skill and attention. Many common prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can cause side effects that make driving unsafe. These medications should be avoided or used with care while driving. Always read the medication’s label, which lists the potential side effects.

Which side effects make driving unsafe?
All medications have potential side effects. Side effects that can make driving dangerous are sleepiness, blurred vision, dizziness, slowed movement, loss of focus, and excitability. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

There are other side effects you may not be aware of that can make driving hazardous. These include low blood sugar, low blood pressure, and slowed breathing. If your brain does not receive normal amounts of sugar, blood, and oxygen, then your ability to drive could be impacted.

Medication side effects that may make driving unsafe
Prescription medications such as antiepileptics, antidepressants, sleeping pills, and pain pills may make driving dangerous. Medications for anxiety may also impact your driving. If you are taking any of these medication types, and if you notice any side effects, ask your doctor and pharmacist about how your driving may be affected.

Many OTC medications can also make driving hazardous. These include medications for weight loss, sleep problems, and allergies. Diet pills may make you feel excited or jittery. Pseudoephedrine, which is used to treat a stuffy nose, may also make you feel this way. These medications may cause you to “crash” and feel tired after their effects wear off. Allergy medications or antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, can cause drowsiness, even the next day.

What should I do if I have to drive?
If you have to drive, read the medication’s label to see if there are potential side effects that can make driving dangerous. Don’t stop taking your medications. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist about your side effects. Be sure to tell them about all of the medications you are taking, including OTC products and nutritional supplements. Sometimes they may be able to recommend another medication or adjust the dose of your medications.

If continuing your medication is necessary, consider riding with family or friends, taking public transportation or a taxi, or walking when possible. Some local organizations also provide transportation services for older citizens.

For more information

If you have side effects from taking any of the medications or symptoms mentioned above, talk with your doctor and pharmacist before driving. They may recommend a different medication or adjust how you take your current medications. You may still be able to drive safely while taking medications under your doctor’s supervision.

By Ryan Rodriguez, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Assistant Professor, Drug Information Specialist – University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy