Prescription Drugs and Driving

If you take prescription drugs of any type, it’s important to understand how the drugs may impact your ability to operate a vehicle safely. While most prescription drugs cause no real problems when you get behind the wheel, some medications are every bit as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

This has become a sticky problem in the United States, where an increasing number of drivers are impaired by prescription drugs.

What the Law Has to Say

In many areas, it is illegal to drive with any detectable level of prohibited drug; however, driving while taking legally prescribed drugs is perplexing, partly because the effect of prescription drugs is complex and much harder to predict, and because various medications affect people differently.

Possible reactions to prescription medications, even when you take the prescribed dosage, include:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Slowed movement
  • Difficulty paying attention

To complicate matters even further, some prescription medications can remain in the bloodstream for several days, or even weeks.

In the U.K., driving under the influence of any drug – prescription or illegal – is an offense if law enforcement can prove use of the drug impairs your ability to operate a vehicle safely. Additionally, a newer law has established a zero tolerance policy for certain illegal and generally prescribed drugs.

The bottom line is that you are at higher risk of accidents and more likely to be arrested for impaired driving if you take certain prescription medications.

What Drugs are Most Dangerous for Drivers?

A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collected data regarding doctor-prescribed medications that could impair driving performance.

The following medications are dangerous because they may be sedating. Some may present a risk equal to or greater than alcohol.

  • Prescription painkillers, including codeine, morphine, OxyCodone and Vicodin
  • Benzodiazpines (tranquilizers) such as Valium and Xanax, Flunitrazepam
  • ADHD meds such as Adderall, Focalin and Ritalin
  • Allergy medications
  • Muscle relaxers such as Flexeril, Robaxin and Soma
  • Antidepressants such as Zoloft or Prozac
  • Sleep aids such as Lunesta and Ambien
  • Barbiturates (pentobarbital)
  • Methadone and other meds used for substance abuse disorders (methadone or Suboxone)

The following medications are stimulants that may increase risk-taking and aggressiveness.

  • Amphetamines such as Dexedrine and Benzadrine
  • Prescription diet pills

When You’re Taking Prescription Medications: Four Tips

  1. Talk to your doctor. Ask her about possible side effects and how they may affect your ability to drive.
  2. Be especially careful when taking a new medication.
  3. Monitor yourself carefully and learn how medications affect your body. Do you feel sleepy or dizzy? Are your reaction times delayed? Is your vision blurry?
  4. The more medications you take, the greater the risk. Talk to your pharmacist, especially if you’re taking more than one medication. He can tell you about possible drug interactions that may affect your ability to drive.

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