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Driving While on Medication

Sensational Seniors

For most people, driving represents freedom, control and independence. Driving allows most of us to get to the places we want or need to go. For many people, driving is important economically - many, if not most of us, drive as part of our job or at the very least, to get to and from work.

Driving is a complex skill. Our ability to drive safely can be affected by changes in our physical, emotional and mental condition.

People use medications, both prescription and OTC and/or supplements for a large variety of reasons, including:


  • allergies
  • anxiety
  • cold
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • heart and cholesterol conditions
  • high blood pressure
  • muscle spasms
  • pain
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Schizophrenia

Medications include those that your doctor has prescribed for you, as well as over-the-counter (OTC) medications that we all can obtain without a doctor's prescription. Many individuals also take herbal supplements. Some of the medications and sometimes even a supplement could cause a reaction that could possibly make it more difficult or perhaps even dangerous, for you to be on the roads driving. These reactions may include:

  • sleepiness
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • slowed movement
  • fainting
  • inability to focus or pay attention
  • nausea

pills Oftentimes, many of us are taking more than one medicine or prescription at a time. The combination of different medicines and/or prescriptions can cause problems for some people. This is especially true for older adults because by and large, they do tend to use more medications than other age groups. Due to changes in our bodies as we age, the older we are, the more prone we are to medicine related problems. The more medicines you use, the greater your risk that your medicines will affect your ability to drive safely. To help avoid problems, it is important that at least once a year you talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about all the medicines - both prescription and OTC - that you are taking - and do include supplements, as well. Do this even if your medicines and supplements are not currently causing you a problem.

Can I still drive safely if I am taking medications?

Yes, most of us can continue to drive safely if we are using medications. Much depends on the effect of those medicines - both prescription and OTC - have on your driving. Oftentimes, we are not even aware of the effects our medications may be having on our driving. This is where your doctor can be of assistance. He or she can help to minimize the negative impact of your medicines on your driving in several ways. Your doctor may be able to:

  1. Adjust your doseage
  2. Adjust the timing of doses or when you use the medicine
  3. Add an exercise or nutrition program to lessen the need for medicine
  4. Change the medicine to one that causes less drowsiness.

What should I do if I am currently taking medications?

Have an honest and open discussion with your physician.
When your doctor prescribes a medication for you, ask him or her about and potential side effects it may cause. In addition, you can specifically ask if the medication could affect your driving abilities. Remind your doctor of other medicines - both prescription and OTC - and any herbal supplements you may be using, especially if you see more than one doctor. Talking honestly with your doctor also means telling the doctor if you are not using all or any of the prescribed medicines.

Do a Medication Test Drive

Ask your doctor if you should drive - especially when you first begin taking a new medication. Using a new medicine can cause you to react in a number of ways. It is recommended that you do not drive when you first start using a new medicine until you are sure how the drug affects you.

Talk to Your Pharmacist

If you haven't already, do get to know your pharmacist. Ask the pharmacist to go over your medicines with you and to remind you of effects they may have on your ability to drive safely. Be sure to request printed information about the side effects of any new medicine. Remind your pharmacist of other medicines and herbal supplements you are using. Pharmacists have a vast knowledge of medications and potential side effects and cautions and most are happily available to answer your questions wherever you get your medicine. If you order by mail, mail-order pharmacies have a toll-free number you can call and a pharmacist available to answer your questions.

Monitor yourself.

Learn to know how your body reacts to the medicine and supplements. Keep track of how you feel after you use the medicine. For example, do you feel sleepy? Is your vision blurry? Do you feel weak and slow? When do these things happen? For the first week or so, or at the very least the first several days, it may not hurt to keep a sort of diary of any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms you notice when you begin a new medication.

Let your doctor and pharmacist know what is happening.
No matter what your reaction is to using a medicine - good or bad - tell your doctor and pharmacist. Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines are powerful - that's why they work. Each person is unique. Two people may respond differently to the same medicine. If you are experiencing side effects, the doctor needs to know that in order to adjust your medicine. Your doctor can help you find a medicine that works best for you.

What if I have to cut back or give up driving?

You can keep your independence even if you have to cut back or give up on your driving due to your need to use a medicine. It may take planning ahead on your part, but it will get you to the places you want to go and the people you want to see. Consider:

  • rides with family and friends
  • taxi cabs
  • shuttle buses or vans
  • public buses, trains and subways
  • walking

Also, senior centers, religious, and other local service groups often offer transportation services for older adults in the community.

Who can I call for help with transportation?

  • Call the ElderCare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 and ask for the phone number of your local Office on Aging, or go to their website at ElderCare.gov.
  • Contact your regional transit authority to find out which bus or train to take.
  • Easter Seals Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation In Our Nation) can direct you to transportation resources near you. Call 1-800-659-6428 or visit online at Projectaction.org.

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