Prescription Medications and Driving: What Are the Hazards?

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications are any medications requiring a physician’s order and are recommended and prescribed for various medical conditions. The potential side effects of any prescribed medication, over the counter medication, herbal supplement, or combination of medications, may affect safe driving.

When you are prescribed a medication, you should talk to your physician, or treating physician, in detail about the medication itself and any potential side effects that may affect you. While many medications may appear harmless, there is always a potential risk you may experience adverse side effects.

Age and Prescription Medication(s)

As people age, many see increases in the number of their prescribed medications. However, at any age, the more medications you take, the greater the risk that the medications will affect your ability to drive safely. Thoroughly discuss with your physician the side effects of any medications, as well as the potential impact on your driving ability. These side effects should be monitored regularly.

How Medication(s) Can Affect My Ability to Drive Safely

Safe driving skills are essential for any driver. Being a safe driver involves the following skills:

  • Strength
    • The ability to fasten the safety belt, apply the brake, and turn the steering wheel.
  • Flexibility
    • The ability to turn your head to look into your mirrors or over your shoulder to check your blind spots.
  • Stamina
    • The ability to drive for long periods (in excess of 20 minutes) without getting tired or falling asleep.
  • Vision
    • The ability to observe objects, vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians around you. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) screens for visual acuity (sharpness and clarity of vision).
  • Complex Thinking
    • The ability to interpret road signs, anticipate and respond appropriately to hazards, and apply California laws and rules of the road to promote safe driving.

Prescribed medications can have serious side effects which may impair one or more of the necessary skills to drive safely. Some medications, or combination of medications, can cause a variety of adverse side effects that may make it difficult for you to safely operate a motor vehicle. These side effects may include:

  • Sleepiness.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Slowed reaction and movement.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Inability to focus or pay attention.
  • Nausea.

Consult your physician if any of these side effects continue for a long period of time.

What Can I Do?

There are several steps you can take to ensure you are able to safely operate a motor vehicle when taking medications.

  • Talk with your physician
    • Ask about any potential side effects a medication may have. Ask if the medication may affect your ability to drive. Always tell your physician about other medication(s) you are currently taking. Include prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal supplements.
  • Ask your physician if you should drive
    • If you need to take medication before driving, discuss the effects of the medication with your physician and pharmacist. This is especially true when beginning a new medication because you may not know how it will affect you or interact with other medications.
  • Talk with your pharmacist
    • Discuss your current medications and review any effects they may have on your ability to drive safely. Be sure to carefully read all medication labels, packaging information, and prescription handouts.  
  • Monitor yourself
    • Learn how your body reacts to medications and herbal supplements you take. If you are taking a new medication, keep track of how you feel after you take it. Drinking alcohol may increase adverse side effects, which may impair your judgment, slow reflexes, distort decision making, and hinder coordination. If you are impaired from drinking alcohol, do not drive.
  • Keep your physician and pharmacist up to date
    • You should always tell your physician and pharmacist of any side effects you have to your medication, no matter how mild.

Where Can I Find More Information?

The following websites provide basic information about most prescription medications in the United States:

    • Provides information about what is most commonly prescribed for certain medical conditions and information on some of the most common side effects.
    • Provides a detailed list of prescribed medications and their known side effects.

Products and services provided on the websites are not promoted or endorsed by DMV.

Additional information about prescription drugs and safe driving can be found at: