Updated: May 17
Many drivers underestimate the risk of driving under the influence of medication. This is shown in a European survey, where 22% of the surveyed drivers stated that they had driven despite taking medicines known for impairing driving (Achermann Stürmer, 2016).
Some medicines can cause a negative impact on the ability to react and attention. However, these skills are essential for safely operating a vehicle. Some medications, for example certain psychotropic drugs, have such a strong effect that a vehicle should not be driven. As contrary to drivers` expectations, not only description medicine like psychotropic drugs or pain killers but also some over the counter medicine as well as dietary supplements can cause reactions that may make it unsafe to drive. The table below provides a rough overview about the effects of individual medication groups.
As shown in the table, due to the effect of some medicines, relevant traffic events may not be detected in time or the reaction is delayed. Lack of concentration, impaired vision or dizziness can also have a negative effect on a safe participation in traffic. These side-effects, among other things, can lead to misinterpretation of dangerous situations.
Attention: The effects of some medicine can last for several hours, and even the next day. Medications with a long effect duration can significantly affect driving abilities and increase the risk of accidents. If the effect of a medication lasts for 16 hours, it is comparable to 0.5 to 0.8 BAC (TÜV, Rheinland, Köln).
Particular caution needs to be taken, if it is necessary to ingest different types medicines. The more medicines are taken at the same time, the higher the risk of accidents (Holte, 2018). For this reason, possible interactions and effects on driving behaviour should be clarified with the doctor.
Tips for safe driving while taking medication
Check the package insert to see if the medicine can affect your ability to drive.
If you are not sure, obtain information from your pharmacy or your doctor.
Ask your doctor if you can do something to minimize side effects. The following questions may help:
Is it possible to change the medication time?
Is it safe to split, crush or dissolve the pill in water?
Can I take the meds, even if I eat irregularly?
Is mixing alcohol and meds problematic?
Can interactions occur that affect my ability to drive?
Pay attention to the effect duration of each medicine, for example concerning sleeping pills: will you be fit enough to drive the next morning?
Before you get into the car, you should ask yourself the following question: Am I fit enough to drive despite taking medication?
Achermann Stürmer, Y. (2016). Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. ESRA thematic report no. 2. ESRA project (European Survey of Road users’ safety Attitude). Bern, Switzerland: Swiss Council for Accident Prevention, p20.
Holte, H. (2018). Seniorinnen und Senioren im Straßenverkehr. Bedarfsanalysen im Kontext von Lebenslagen, Lebensstilen und verkehrssicherheitsrelevanten Erwartungen [Bericht zum Forschungsprojekt FEF1100.4315008]. Bergisch Gladbach: Wirtschaftsverlag NW (Berichte der Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen Reihe M: Mensch und Sicherheit. M 285).
Prüfstelle für Medikamenteneinflüsse auf Verkehrs- und Arbeitssicherheit des TÜV Rheinland, Köln (Hrsg.), (1994). Transparenz durch differenzierte Information: ein internationales Kategoriensystem zur Bewertung des Gefährdungspotentials von Medikamenten.