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Driving and Medication

By: Tracy Wilkinson - Updated: 22 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Medication Driving Driver Drug Safety

Have you ever woken up on a work morning and realised that a nasty head cold has developed overnight and you feel absolutely rotten? If you have, the chances are that you've dosed yourself up with cold and flu treatments, dragged yourself into your car, and headed off to work - there's nothing unusual about that, it's happened to most of us at one time or another.

If you've ever done this, have you ever realised that you might not only be risking your safety, but you could face points on your licence and end up facing a hefty fine too?

Many motorists have no idea that if they are taking any kind of medication, it's really important that they find out what effects or side effects their prescription drugs or over the counter remedies might have on them, and of course, their ability to drive.

Road Traffic Act

Many drivers don't realise that the section of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) that pertains to driving while under the influence of drugs, does not differentiate between drugs that are prescribed by a medical authority for illness or pain, those that are purchased over the counter, and those that are obtained illegally. This means that if you are stopped while driving, and it is later determined that you were unfit to drive due to any medication that you had taken, then you may be prosecuted and in turn, could lose your licence.

Whenever people talk about drugs and driving, most of us think it relates to people taking illegal drugs and taking to the road - but taking any type of medication and getting behind the wheel can be really dangerous - so it's important to know what it is that you are taking, and how it affects you.

Different types of Drugs and their potential effects

Depression or mental illness

People with depression or mental illness may be distracted and unable to concentrate on driving at times, however, if a sufferer is prescribed Valium or sedatives to counteract anxiety, this can give a level of driving impairment that equate to a blood alcohol reading of 0.10, which is higher than the legal limit in some countries. This type of drug can also induce effects including drowsiness, blurry vision and staggering.

Pain Relief

Analgesics, given for pain relief can also cause inability to concentrate and drowsiness.

Fatigue and Tiredness

Drugs administered to counteract fatigue and tiredness can be over-stimulating, leading to a false state of awareness, higher than justifiable confidence, dizziness and being over-exited.

Heart Problems & Hypertension

For heart problems and hypertension, drugs are often prescribed that can cause dizziness and blurred vision

Over the Counter Remedies

Over the counter remedies such as co-codomol, cough syrup, sleeping tablets, cold and flu treatments can reduce concentration and driving ability, and anti-histamines, taken for allergies including hayfever, can make a driver feel drowsy and distracted.

Combining drugs

Sometimes you might be given different types of medication for different issues, and independently, the individual medications may cause you no problems at all. However, when combined, they may have a different effect, so if you can try to take them somewhere safe for the first time - somewhere that means you don't need to drive anywhere when the medicine starts to work. This means that you can make sure you feel OK and don't suffer any ill-effects that may affect your driving skills before you get behind the wheel. You should never take a combination of illegal drugs and prescribed medication, as the effects are likely to be unpredictable, and potentially fatal.

Medication and alcohol

One really important thing to remember is that medication can affect the way you react to alcohol, in some cases, quite severely. It's usually safer to stay off the booze altogether if you're on medication as it can be very difficult to gauge how good your tolerance will be.

Tips for safe driving while taking medication

  • Always try and have a 'dry run'. Take the medicine when you don't have to drive so that you can measure any ill-effects that might affect your driving ability when you need to.
  • Always remember to ask your pharmacist or GP about the effects of your medication on your driving. Read the information that comes with it and follow the instructions and guidance.
  • Never mix your medicine unless you have been told to do so by your GP or medical advisor.
  • Do not mix your medicine with alcohol if you are going to drive.

The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. If you feel uncomfortable, or in any way unable to drive, don't risk it, and take a taxi or get a lift.

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