Drivers, especially young drivers, need to be aware that medication, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, can impair your ability to operate a vehicle safely. Effects can include reduced ability to divide attention, poor time and space management, and reduced ability to allocate concentration. These effects can increase crash risk by up to eight times, with some crashes resulting in death (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction).
Drivers with a medical condition may be more susceptible to the side effects of prescription drugs because they often use multiple medications in combination. Plus, they are more likely to have pre-existing conditions that can increase both the frequency and severity of adverse effects.
Just because a medication was prescribed to you by your doctor does not mean it is okay to drive after use. This includes prescriptions for medical cannabis. Cannabis is an impairing substance and should not be used before driving. Medical cannabis users are not permitted to drive while impaired. Medical users who have consumed cannabis have to make other plans (e.g. taxi, ride-share, designated driver) to get to their destination.
The same is true for other prescription drugs - be sure to read the label and speak to your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects. They'll give you the advice you need to stay safe while driving. While many prescription and over-the-counter drugs do not necessarily affect driving abilities, many of these drugs can have side effects severe enough to impair driving, even at safely prescribed doses. And the effects of some can last for several hours. According to the American Automobile Association, the following drugs have the potential to impair driving:
- Narcotic pain pills
- Sleep medicines
- Some antidepressants
- Cough medicines
Impairment by some drugs, such as sedatives, might not be obvious and the effects of some sleep medications can linger into the next morning. Effects include slowed reaction time, sleepiness, poor psychomotor performance, impaired coordination, reduced ability to divide attention, increased errors and difficulty following instructions.
Even if it's a legal or prescription drug, if you're driving impaired the consequences are the same. Learn more about impaired driving laws.