Medications to Avoid When Driving

Safety behind the wheel requires concentration, alertness and coordination; however, certain medications can alter these abilities and make driving unsafe.

Nearly half of drivers surveyed in a recent study reported taking at least one medication with potentially impairing effects before driving, including antihistamines, pain relievers and sleep aids.


Antihistamines provide effective relief from allergies such as hay fever, asthma and skin rashes. Additionally, they may assist in relieving nasal congestion, itchy eyes or any nasal discharge that occurs from allergies. Some antihistamines can be purchased over-the-counter while some require a valid doctor’s prescription.

These medications may cause you to feel sleepy and reduce your reaction time when driving or using machinery, due to them quickly reaching the brain from blood. This may impair both thinking and movement as well as increase the likelihood of car crashes.

If you take medications that make you sleepy, take precaution when driving or operating machinery until you understand their effects on you. Limit using them more than a few days at once.

Some antihistamines can be sedating and may make you sleepy during the daytime, affecting co-ordination, movement and concentration – potentially dangerous when driving or operating machinery; so avoid taking such antihistamines in a rush.

Antihistamine medications that belong to the first or “older” generation may produce this side effect; however, newer ones tend to be less likely to do so and these second- and third-generation antihistamines are generally viewed as safer options.

There is a range of antihistamines available to treat different forms of allergy as well as other conditions, such as travel sickness and bites/stings. They come in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids and nasal sprays.

Eyedrops may also be used as eye drops to treat itchy and watery eyes, although not all products available on prescription can be taken by very young children without prior medical advice.

Antihistamine side effects typically include drowsiness, dry mouth, dilated pupils and blurred vision. Drowsiness can create driving challenges when taken alongside other medications or alcohol; for this reason, it’s wise to refrain from drinking alcohol while taking an antihistamine and to not engage in activities requiring alertness until you understand their impact on you.

Avoid taking these medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding as they could harm your unborn baby. If you suspect this may be happening to you, inform your physician as soon as possible, as well as consult a pharmacist about safest medicines to use during this time frame.

Cold and flu medications

Cold and flu medications may provide temporary relief for symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, coughing and sore throat; however, their side effects can be dangerous for drivers. Drowsiness and dizziness are two such symptoms which could compromise judgement while driving and result in unsafe driving practices.

Carefully reading and following all instructions when taking any medication could save you from being charged with DUI/DWI.

Cold medicines containing acetaminophen may cause drowsiness if taken in combination with alcohol, particularly when combined with antihistamines – both medications which also induce sleepiness when combined.

Be mindful that most cold medicines are intended for daytime use only and should be taken at least an hour prior to driving if your product contains both acetaminophen and dextromethorphan.

DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu is specifically marketed for daytime use and provides a higher per-pill dose of acetaminophen than other over-the-counter remedies. One single-dose packet should be taken every four hours by dissolving it into eight ounces of water and taking an eight ounce swig of solution from it.

DayQuil Severe Cold & Cough can serve both pain-relief and antihistamine functions simultaneously to open nasal passages and relieve congestion. Due to its higher dextromethorphan per pill dose than similar cold and flu medications, DayQuil Severe Cold & Cough may also induce sleepiness for additional relief.

Theraflu Nighttime Severe Cold & Cough provides higher doses of acetaminophen than most cold and flu remedies and should be taken every four hours by dissolving one packet in 8 ounces of water.

If you are a truck driver involved in an accident or have experienced other forms of harm, it is vital that you seek legal advice as soon as possible after being involved in one or more. An experienced Reading personal injury attorney can assist with negotiating the proper compensation and ensure you receive proper medical treatment to recover completely from injuries sustained.

Prescription sleep medications

Sleep medications like Ambien and Edluar, Eszopiclone (Lunesta and Sonata), Zaleplon (Sonata) and Ramelteon (Rozerem) belong to a class of medicines known as Sedative-Hypnotics; these work by blocking brain receptors responsible for controlling sleep/wake cycles, creating drowsiness that could leave you groggy in the morning as you drive your SUV.

Prescription sleep medicines can reduce your ability to drive safely and stay alert the following morning, especially for women, as their metabolism of medication tends to be slower and they use sleep aids more frequently than men.

Ambien CR contains zolpidem, which may hinder driving ability if taken with alcohol or narcotics such as morphine.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials warn that taking even low doses of zolpidem may impair your ability to perform other activities the next day, including those related to driving and work. They are currently assessing this risk with other insomnia drugs that can impair performance as soon as they take them, both prescription and over-the-counter versions alike.

If you are having trouble sleeping, or insomnia, speak to your physician about possible treatments such as behavioral therapy and medications. Be sure to discuss other health conditions like heart disease or diabetes prior to taking any medicine.

A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health determined that people taking prescription sleep medications were twice as likely to become involved in car crashes. These results are based on data compiled from 410,000 adults – including parents of drivers involved in accidents.

Be mindful that these medications should only be used temporarily. According to FDA regulations, short-term treatment of insomnia or other sleep issues with these drugs should only ever be undertaken when necessary and only under medical advice. If you suffer from insomnia or another sleeping issue, speak with your physician regarding possible solutions; good sleep hygiene habits and behavioral therapy have proven successful treatments for insomnia.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines

People typically turn to OTC medications when seeking relief for common symptoms like pain, coughs, colds, diarrhea or constipation. These products can be found at pharmacies, grocery stores or gas stations.

Though over-the-counter medications can be useful and safe when taken as directed, some can have harmful side effects when taken prior to driving – potentially increasing your risk and that of others in an accident.

Medication that could impede your ability to drive include narcotic pain relievers, sleeping pills and certain antihistamines. Narcotic painkillers, for example, can numb the brain and impair judgment; sleeping pills, on the other hand, may make you sleepy and reduce reaction times.

Prescription sleep medications like Valium and Xanax have a sedative effect, which may alter judgment and impair driving safely. Melatonin also can produce this same soporific effect and diminish your capacity for clear thinking.

Other OTC medications which may cause dangerous side effects when taken before driving include decongestants, antihistamines, doxylamine or diphenhydramine-containing preparations and sleeping aids such as Ambien and zolpidem. If taken in the evening they could result in fatigue the following morning as well as “hangover effects”.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies showed that drivers taking sleeping pills before getting behind the wheel were involved in more accidents than those drinking alcohol, according to reports by National Center for Biotechnology Information. Furthermore, specific prescription drugs were linked with over 90 percent of fatal car accidents.

Hypnotics pose another risk when taken prior to driving; these over-the-counter drugs can cause drowsiness, dizziness and lack of coordination.

If you must use over-the-counter (OTC) medication before driving, make sure it does not have any sedating properties and/or is at an appropriate dosage level. Also read and follow all label and instruction closely so that no improper usage occurs or dose exceeds recommendations.

Others OTC medications that pose a significant risk of impairment when taken before driving include pseudoephedrine, decongestants, antihistamines and some antibiotics. Furthermore, mixing multiple OTC medications together could result in serious side effects or even death.