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Warning! Drugs that could affect your Safety when Driving

September 2, 2020

How often do you consider the effect of medicines on your safety when driving? Most of the time, you are well and don’t have to bother – but what if you get a bad cold or suffer from hay fever?

Could some of those treatments you use cause effects that may affect your driving? In this article, we look at some of these medicines and their potential effects on driving.

If you drive, take a few minutes to read this article about your safety when driving on medication.

Medicines are an important aspect of safety when driving


Generally, most people taking a course of medication are safe to drive.

However, many medicines do not fall into this category.

Firstly, some may be drugs sold over the counter, in which case you must always read the accompanying patient information leaflet to learn their possible effects.

This may depend on the drug, the person taking them or both.

Similarly, read the information leaflets provided.

Alternatively, you can double-check with your pharmacist or doctor that it is safe to take these medicines when driving.

And one of the useful discussions to have with your doctor when prescribed any medicines include their possible effect on driving.

Next, what about prescribed medicines?

(Other information to know include the objective of the medicine, the side effects and how long to take them for).

Drug Side Effects That Could Impact Driving

The side effects of a drug that affect your driving can happen as soon as you take them in some cases.

In others, they may take longer to develop – even up till a day after taking them.

What are these effects?

Surprisingly, there is a good number:

  • Sleepiness/drowsiness
  • Blurred vision – the inability of your eyes to get a clear picture of objects within your visual field
  • Dizziness – the feeling of unsteadiness or spatial instability
  • Slowed movement – the delay in your physical responses to changes occurring around you, like changing gears or applying the breaks
  • Fainting – the feeling that you are about to lose consciousness or ‘blackout.’
  • Inability to focus or pay attention – feeling confused or distracted also makes it impossible to react appropriately to safety cues when driving
  • Nausea – a feeling of wanting to vomit: can include the taste of acid in the throat, mouth and chest; and an uncomfortable sensation that rises up from the stomach and travelling upwards
  • Excitability – being anxious, tense, and agitated could also affect your concentration and lead to poor judgement when driving

Avoid These Drugs If Driving

Drug Category By EffectsExamples
SedativePainkillers, Sedating antihistamines (like Piriton), Benzodiazepines like Valium.
CNS StimulantsCaffeine, Modafinil, Ritalin
Drugs that Affect VisionValium, Morphine, some Allergy medicines, some Cold/Flu treatments
Drugs that irritate the Gastric Tract (Cause Nausea & Vomiting)Most medicines could fit this category
Drugs that ‘Slow You DownSome antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives
Drugs that affect VisionSome eyedrops (Atropine), Viagra, Celebrex, Hydroxychloroquine
Drugs that contain AlcoholCough mixtures, some liquid laxatives, antidiarrhoreals, painkillers
Categories and Examples of Medicines which could affect your Safety When Driving.

Sedating Effects

Examples are drugs that contain opiates and drugs derived from the opium plant. Morphine is the product of this group; it and all derivatives are most often used for pain control.

Other examples that work similarly are Codeine (used in cough syrups as well as painkillers like Co-codamol) and Tramadol.

More drugs that can make you sleepy are certain classes of antihistamine medicines that we use commonly to treat allergies.

Many people use antihistamines for hay fever or other allergy disorders without realising they could also have this critical side effect.

Another group of medicines which can make you sleepy after using them are some drugs used to control anxiety. Known as benzodiazepines, examples include Valium or Librium.

It’s also useful as a muscle relaxant.

Medications for treating mental health conditions, including some Antidepressants and Antipsychotics, also have a sedating effect.

Brain Stimulants

These stimulants mainly work by stimulating the brain and making your mental and physical processes work faster.

They find use in treating conditions like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder), Chronic Fatigue, Excessive Sleepiness, Obesity and more.

However, their side effects which can affect safe driving, include dizziness, headaches, irritability, anxiety and mood swings, among others.

Examples include Caffeine-containing drugs, some of which can be bought over the counter, like some Extra Strength Panadol preparations, Amphetamines, Modafinil etc.

Caffeine in non-therapeutic forms like your cup of coffee – if taken in excessive quantities daily, could cause problems with driving.

According to this article, over 4 cups of coffee, 10 cans of Coke or 2 energy drinks per day can lead to serious side effects.


This group covers a lot of medications with various uses.

Sedating drugs, including sleeping tablets which cause sleepiness, can leave you disoriented and feeling mentally and physically slow.

Sedating antihistamines, pain medicines, and muscle relaxers do this as well. Cough and cold mixtures do often contain drugs that cause slowing down your movements.

Nausea and Vomiting

These symptoms are a side effect of nearly any medicine.

If you do experience them with your medication, you should discuss alternatives with your doctor.

Confusion or Disorientation

People who take some antidepressants, antipsychotics and some medicines to treat Epilepsy (seizure disorders) may find that they experience confusion to different degrees.

It is also an effect of taking drugs causing sedation, so many of the medicines already described above will fall into this group.

Some medicines you can buy over-the-counter for treating diarrhoea, such as Imodium can lead to confusion.

Vision Problems

Taking some eye drops may cause stinging and affect your vision. Some are more likely to do this than others – such as Atropine drops used for making a diagnosis of eye conditions.

However, if you have just started a new type of eye drop, avoid driving for a couple of hours to be sure they will not impair your eyesight.

But other surprising medicines that affect your eyes include treatments for osteoporosis (such as Alendronic acid), migraines and seizure disorders (like Topiramate). Others are drugs that enhance sexual performance, such as Viagra or Cialis, which causes ‘blue vision’ when used in high doses or abused – a condition when you see everything bluer than usual.

Drugs like Celebrex and Meloxicam are anti-inflammatory painkillers which can cause blurred vision, while Hydroxychloroquine (a treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Malaria) can cause severe eye damage.

Alcohol Content in Some Drugs

We all know that drinking and driving is a No-No.

But what about some medicines that contain alcohol which could affect driving?

A lot of cough syrups (sold over the counter) have alcohol, as do some anti-allergy medications.

Other examples are some antidiarrhoeal medicines, laxatives and pain relievers in liquid forms like elixirs, tinctures or syrups.

Summing Up

Finally, safety when driving is about being conscious of what you are doing both before and while driving.

These days, it is straightforward to check the effects of any medicines – looking at the information leaflets or checking with your doctor and pharmacist.

Good habits to develop are reading through the leaflet yourself and asking your doctor about any side effects you should know.

Check out this video for more information on what you should know about any prescribed medicines.

We’d love to hear your comments – were you surprised by any of the drugs on the list? Let us know.

More Reading

  1. Drugs – Some Medicines and Driving Don’t Mix
  2. Mayo Clinic – Caffeine – How Much is Too Much?
  3. Why Viagra makes you see everything blue-tinted
  4. Misusing Drugs – Is Medical Advice Needed?
  5. Madagascar Covid-Organics – What Africa should do….

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality healthcare. 

The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly

Image Source Credit – Canva

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