Medicines and Driving

It is estimated that road crashes cost Australia $27 billion every year. Since record keeping started in 1925, there have been more than 189,000 road deaths in Australia.

During the ‘silly season’ most people will consider their alcohol consumption and how it may affect their driving. However, many people don’t realise that medicines can also affect driving. We all know alcohol can slow our reflexes, but many medicines can do this too. If your driving skills are compromised by medicine side effects, you may cause an accident and risk death or injury to yourself or others. Other risks include fines, property damage, and loss of licence, or even time in jail.

Traffic accidents in Australia

  • Traffic accidents are a major cause of death and disability in Australia.
  • Traffic related incidents are the second major cause of death for those aged 15-24 in Australia, and the third most likely cause for those aged 25-34.
  • In 2016 there were 1,293 road deaths in Australia.
  • The annual economic cost of traffic accidents in Australia is estimated at $27 billion.

Traffic accidents are devastating not only for victims, but for society as a whole. Medicines and driving Many over-the-counter medicines including antihistamines for allergy, and prescription medicines such as opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines (for anxiety or sleep disorders) come with warnings against the operation of machinery – including motor vehicles – for a specified period of time after use. This is because these medicines can impair driving and make traffic accidents much more likely.

Medicines can impair driving by:

  • causing drowsiness
  • slowing reaction time
  • affecting concentration
  • causing shakiness or unsteadiness
  • causing blurred vision
  • causing aggressive behaviour
  • affecting coordination.

These are some effects that can make driving unsafe.

Medicines and driving

There are many factors that can cause the effects of medicines to vary. These factors can include:

  • the individual’s metabolism
  • the strength and time of dose
  • whether it is initial treatment
  • whether the dose has increased
  • whether it was taken in combination with other substances (e.g. other medicines, illicit drugs, alcohol, and some complementary medicines).

Help from your pharmacist

Berwick Pharmacy is your health destination. Your pharmacist can provide advice on which medicines may affect your driving. When starting any new prescription or over-the-counter medicine always check with your pharmacist about the possible side effects. If the side effects of your medicine do affect driving, ask your pharmacist if there is an alternative. For example, there are now antihistamines for allergy that are less sedating.

Travelling safely when taking medicines

  • Look for and follow instructions on medicine warning labels.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor to explain anything you do not understand about your medicine/s.
  • Read the consumer medicines information leaflet available for most prescription medicines – ask your pharmacist.
  • Arrange another form of transport – call a cab, ask a friend or relative for help, or use public transport.

For your own safety:

  • Don’t drive unless you are fit to do so.
  • Don’t stop taking your prescribed medicine if your driving is affected – cease driving and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about an alternative.
  • Don’t take more or less of the prescribed dose unless recommended by your doctor.
  • Don’t take another person’s medicine.
  • Don’t consume alcohol with any medicine – check with your pharmacist or doctor.
  • Don’t drive if you have missed a dose of medicine that controls symptoms which affect your driving.

Remember, your driving can affect not only you, but also your passengers and others on the road.

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