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Driving Under The Influence of Medications – Part 1: The Problems

By Carissa Andrews  •   May 14, 2014

Of the nearly 314 million people in America, nearly 70% (220 million) have taken a prescription medication this month and of those, a whopping 50% (110 million) have taken two or more. With that in mind, it’s a pretty safe bet you are one of the millions who have taken a medically prescribed drug this month. However, if someone asked you whether or not your medication impairs your driving, would you know? Or are you like the majority of us who aren’t sure?

Did you know there are roughly 6 million car accidents each year in America? A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found in 2009 that 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drug. That’s 1,080,000 people and likely on the rise.

When it comes to driving impaired, the study from NHTSA also concluded that young adults age 18-25 were the most likely to drive while under the influence of illicit drugs. However, seniors taking more than one prescription were also the most at risk to cause an injury related accident.

What does medication induced driving impairment mean?

Driving requires the utmost of your cognitive mind. Reaction speeds, the ability to process and respond to danger, the ability to judge distances, etc. can all be impaired while under the influence of many over the counter and prescribed medications. For obvious reasons, any medications that affect the central nervous system (CNS), your blood glucose levels, blood pressure, vision, or otherwise have the potential to interfere with driving skills are in question here.

Driving impairment caused by medications is defined as any drug that causes:

• Sedation

• Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

• Blurred vision or distorted perception

• Hallucinations and paranoia

• Hypotension (low blood pressure)

• Panic attacks

• Dizziness

• Fainting (syncope)

• Loss of coordination (ataxia)

• Nausea

• Erratic and/or aggressive behavior

• Overconfidence, leading to unnecessary risk taking

• Inability to focus or pay attention

• Physical limitations such as slow movement, slow reaction, tremors, or shaking

Medications causing these symptoms can include, but are not limited to; antidepressants and anxiety medications, high blood pressure medications, sedatives and tranquilizers, anticonvulsants, cholesterol medications, diabetes medications, heart medications, treatments for epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, muscle relaxants, and narcotic pain medications such as codeine.

Over the counter medications, as well as some herbal supplements can cause dangerous side effects, too. Pay particular attention if you are taking any of these OTC drugs:

Allergy or cold medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, cough medicines, NSAIDs, diet pills, caffeine pills (or other central nervous system stimulants).

Of course, illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroine, etc. are also considered highly dangerous when driving.

Please keep in mind, taking more than one of the above medications (prescribed, OTC, herbal supplements, or illegal) may interact each other and can also cause impairment in driving. Always discuss the possible interactions of your medications with your doctor.

The dangers are evident, though not as exposed.

In America, we have a very clear message that you don’t drink and drive, but the same cannot be said about medications. So far, there isn’t enough reliable data on how many drivers are impaired by prescription drugs alone because they have been clumped into the same category as drunk driving and illegal drug use. However, law enforcement officials say the problem with prescription impairment is growing so quickly that many states are putting their police officers through special training to spot the signs and are demanding better technology to detect it.

It’s important to note many people convicted of medication induced driving impairment have the same symptoms as those who have high blood-alcohol levels. Slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, slowed reaction speeds -- to name a few.

Possible repercussions if you're not careful.

If convicted of driving under the influence of driving impairment due to prescriptions, you will likely face a host of possible punishments/repercussions.

• Fined

• Criminal Record

• Driving license revoked/suspended

• Jail time

• Serious injuries to another party

• Death

No matter how you look at it, the truth of the matter is, you can be as deadly behind the wheel with prescription drugs as you can with over-the-limit alcohol, and you are responsible for your own actions.

Stay tuned for Part 2; where we will explore the ways to stay safe while still using the medications you have been legally prescribed. It is possible to drive safely while on your prescriptions, and we will show you how.


is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.


The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.