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The impact of medication on driving

In 2021, research showed that one out of two drivers were unaware that it’s illegal to drive when impaired by medication. And two out of three drivers used medications likely to cause impairment.

Impaired driving is when your body or emotions have been affected (usually temporarily) in a way that makes you an unsafe driver.

Even though medicine is legal, it can affect your cognitive processing, reaction times and perception of reality. It can also make you more fatigued. It’s illegal to drive when impaired by any medication. This is because you risk causing death or serious injury to yourself and other people.

If impaired, we want you to keep taking your medicine. If you experience any kind of impairment, stop driving immediately, continue taking your medication and contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Are you safe to drive?

  • One in four prescriptions are for medicine that’s likely to cause impairment.
  • Medication that impairs can include:
    • medicines bought in a pharmacy
    • substances from a health shop or traditional healer.
  • With some medical conditions, and with older age, the likelihood of multiple medication being taken at the same time increases. Different medicines can interact with one another and increase the risk of impairment.
  • When alcohol or illegal drugs are taken along with medicine, levels of impairment can intensify. Sometimes the impairment lasts many hours after the alcohol or illegal drugs have been consumed (even into the next day).
  • Listen to what other people around you say; sometimes you can show signs of impairment that you don’t recognise but others do.
  • If you’re impaired by medication, don’t drive. Seek assistance and contact your health care provider. If you feel very unwell, call 111.

The types of medication likely to cause impairment include:

  • strong painkillers
  • depression medications
  • heart medications
  • allergy medications
  • sleeping tablets
  • anti-psychotic medications
  • epilepsy medications
  • addiction treatment
  • nausea medications
  • anxiety medications.

Impairments to watch out for include:

  • feeling drowsy/sleepy
  • blurred vision
  • headache
  • feeling weak
  • slowed reactions
  • dizziness
  • nausea, feeling sick
  • unable to focus or pay attention
  • being easily confused
  • slurred speech
  • having trouble forming a sentence
  • feeling wired and overconfident (although you may not notice yourself).

Want to know more?