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Medications & Impaired Driving Accidents

Walner Law®
Walner Law®

March 4, 2021

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Drunk driving is obviously dangerous. Most people also understand that using a cellphone behind the wheel increases the risk of causing a violent car accident. But what many people don’t realize is that taking prescription medications can be just as hazardous as intoxicated, distracted, or exhausted driving.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications usually seem pretty innocuous. They are meant to combat mild symptoms, like those of the common cold, so we don’t think they are very strong. However, the truth is that many medications and prescription drugs filled out at the pharmacy can seriously impact your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Common and subtle side effects of many OTC medicines are:

  • Drowsiness or “nodding off”
  • Worsened vision and hearing
  • Distractibility
  • Racing thoughts

Depending on the medication that you took and how your body reacts to it, the side effects could last a few hours or all day, too. Before you take any OTC medicine or prescription and then hop into the driver’s seat, you should talk to your doctor about how the side effects could affect your driving abilities.

“Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery”

Oftentimes, medicines will downplay the possible side effects and just say something like, “Do not operate heavy machinery after taking this medication.” It is understandable if you see that warning and brush it off because you don’t own any heavy machinery and you don’t work on a construction site or an industrial plant. This language is misleading, though. The “heavy machinery” the packaging is talking about is really a car. If pharmaceutical companies wanted to be more transparent with their side effect warnings, then it should read something along the lines of: “Do not drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery.”

Medications Known to Cause Impairment

There are practically countless OTC medicines and prescription drugs available on the market today. Many of these medications will not affect your ability to drive safely, but many will. How are you supposed to know the difference? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has compiled a helpful list of medications known to cause impairment to drivers. (You can view their full article by clicking here.)

Some of the worst and most common drugs that impair driving are:

  • Allergy medications
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cold and flu medicine
  • Medical marijuana and CBD
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Opiates
  • Sleeping pills
  • Stimulants (withdrawals)

Extended Effects of Certain Medicines

The FDA has also warned that some OTC medicines and prescriptions will cause driver impairment for hours and hours. There is no guarantee that falling asleep will rid you of the symptoms, as many people assume. In particular, medicines that contain zolpidem, an active substance in Ambien, can create lingering impairment well after the drug is taken. People who take Ambien daily might never be fully safe to drive a vehicle because of the side effects of zolpidem.

How Can You Stop Impaired Driving Accidents?

The best way to do your part in stopping impaired driving accidents is to never take medication before driving if you aren’t sure if it is safe. Plan to use rideshare services if you must take a prescription medication that causes impairment. Talk to your doctor, which can be done remotely, about possible side effects and what can be done to counteract them. If everyone is more careful about avoiding drug-impaired driving, then the roads everywhere will become safer for everyone.

Walner Law® offers legal assistance to drivers who have been hit by motorists who were impaired or sleepy due to medicine. Call our Chicago impaired driving accident attorneys at (312) 313-2888 or contact us online to learn more about filing a claim.

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