What Prescription Drugs Impair Driving?

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Whenever your doctor prescribes a new prescription drug for you, one of the first things he or she will tell you is if you should or should not operate heavy machinery after taking it. Most medications have little effect on your ability to drive; however, some medications do have an impact.

This is because certain medications cause drowsiness, which can spell disaster behind the wheel. You should not use certain drugs before operating heavy machinery, including motor vehicles.

The Danger of Drug-Impaired Driving

Driving while under the influence of illicit or prescription drugs leads to many accidents, injuries, and deaths every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 20% of weekend drivers tested positive for drugs during stops during 2013 and 2014.

Prescription medications that cause drowsiness impact multiple parts of your brain that help you drive. Drowsiness slows your reaction time, increasing your likelihood of getting into an accident or hitting another vehicle, pedestrian, or animal.

Blurred vision, poor concentration, and falling asleep at the wheel also lead to accidents when you drive while under the influence of prescription drugs. Often, drivers pulled over for impaired driving mixed alcohol and drugs or multiple types of drugs. Driving while under the influence of prescription or illicit drugs can result in severe consequences, including jail time, fines, and license revocation.


Coughing, sneezing, and runny noses caused by allergies may find relief from antihistamines. A doctor can prescribe antihistamines, or you can purchase them over the counter. Common medications that contain antihistamines are Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin. While these medications effectively combat allergy symptoms, some antihistamines can impair your reaction time and concentration. They can also make you drowsy.

When taking allergy medication, read the box or label carefully. If the medication causes drowsiness, avoid driving while using it, or switch to a non-drowsy allergy medication.


Some people treat depression and other mental illnesses, such as such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, with antidepressants. This medication comes in several varieties, each with its own impact on the neurotransmitters in the brain. Common brands of antidepressants include Lexapro, Celexa, and Zoloft.

Not all antidepressants cause drowsiness, but many of them do have effects on sleep. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the more commonly prescribed antidepressants with a sedative side effect. Antidepressants affect different people in different ways – some patients experience insomnia and others experience daytime sleepiness.

When starting a new antidepressant, avoid driving after medicating during the first few weeks. Once you have gained a sense of how the new medication affects you, you can resume driving if you do not experience drowsiness.


Many people treat nausea, vomiting, and motion sickness with antiemetics. Pregnant women use antiemetics to relieve the symptoms of morning sickness. Dramamine, and Bonine are common antiemetic drugs.

In addition to severe drowsiness, antiemetics side effects can include fatigue, dizziness, and confusion, all of which can severely impair driving. If you are using antiemetics, avoid driving unless you are taking a non-drowsy formula.

How to Avoid Accidental Impairment

Always read the labels on medications before you take them. If your doctor says to avoid driving while taking a medication, do not drive. Additionally, if the medication box tells you to avoid driving, do not drive.

In cases where you are unsure how a new prescription will affect you, take extra precautions. If you’re taking a new prescription, see how the medication affects you before you attempt driving. If you do not experience drowsiness and the instructions do not warn against operating heavy machinery, you should be fine to drive.

Always listen to your doctor. Never operate heavy machinery while under the influence of prescription or illicit drugs.