How Prescriptions Can Affect Your Driving Safety

Prescription medications can often cause side effects that make driving unsafe. Yet, while most people are aware of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, many disregard the warnings to not operate a vehicle or other heavy machinery after taking certain prescription drugs. Other prescribed medications can cause drowsiness and risk an accident on the road, regardless of whether the warning explicitly states that a vehicle should not be operated after consumption.

Those taking prescription drugs should speak with their doctor and perform the research necessary to know whether or not you can drive safely after taking a dose. They may be surprised to learn about just how risky taking certain medications, and driving can genuinely be. As for others on the road, they should be aware that they could be at risk of getting involved in a car accident with someone under the influence — not just of drugs or alcohol, but legally obtained prescriptions. If a car accident victim is injured by someone suspected of being under the influence of prescription drugs, whether lawfully obtained or not, that at-fault driver may be held legally responsible for the resulting injury costs.

Injury victims can work with an experienced car accident attorney to investigate the circumstances of their accident and help them seek the maximum amount of compensation available for their medical bills, vehicle repairs, or other losses.

Pain Killers, Opioids, and Deadly Car Accidents

One of the biggest culprits for prescription-caused impaired driving is the group of medications known collectively as painkillers. These may be prescribed as a patient recovers from a procedure or be provided to dull the side effects of painful conditions. Some patients receive pain medication prescriptions for chronic conditions, including cancer and respiratory disease.
Common pain medications include opioid-based pills like oxycodone or codeine and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. These pain medicines are called narcotic drugs because they relate to opium derivatives and synthetic compounds imitating their effects.

Side effects of narcotic pain medications include drowsiness, blurred vision, and impaired decision-making. Stronger opioid medications or larger doses can increase these side effects. In instances of extreme opioid intoxication, the user may experience loss of motor coordination, distortions in their perception of reality, or even sudden loss of consciousness.
Non-prescription, non-narcotic pain medicines, including common over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) like Tylenol or Advil, typically do not have impairing side effects.

Research of fatal two-vehicle car accidents shows that a driver, who was at fault for the deadly collision, was two times more likely to be under the influence of narcotic pain medication than the other, non-culpable driver. These drivers most frequently caused their accidents by failing to maintain their lanes.

Despite the known risks of driving after using opioid and synthetic pain medications, nearly 1 in 5 drivers who tested positive for intoxicating substances were under the influence of opioids.

Medication Tips

AARP lists medication tips to use your prescribed medications correctly.

  1. All medications can be dangerous, whether or not they are over-the-counter, prescribed, or herbal supplements
  2. Do not take medicines that are not prescribed to you
  3. Unless indicated by your physician, do not mix medications
  4. Take the correct doses of medicine at the right times prescribed
  5. Monitor yourself if you start a new drug because everyone reacts differently to medication
  6. If your prescription has expired, do not take it
  7. Do not consume alcohol while taking medication
  8. Consult your physician for questions about side effects to get clarification


Both prescription and non-prescription antihistamines have the potential to cause serious drowsiness. Other side effects, such as impaired concentration and memory, can result from this state.

Prescription Cough Medicines

Most prescription cough medicines contain codeine, an opioid, or dextromethorphan, which can cause drowsiness and, in high doses, hallucinations. Some cough syrup products can also have a high amount of alcohol, enough to put you over the BAC limit in some instances.

Muscle Relaxers, Tranquilizers, Anti-Anxiety Medicines, and Sleep Aids

Nearly all drugs in the tranquilizer or sleep aid category of medicines can cause severe fatigue and drowsiness. These include some well-known anti-anxiety medications such as Valium, Xanax, or Ativan. Those using these medications may also experience dizziness, muscle weakness, and lowered reaction times.


Anti-depressant medications can have a broad range of effects depending on the user and the context they consume their medications. In some instances, commonly prescribed anti-depressants can result in blurred vision, dizziness, or insomnia, leading to fatigue.

Effects of Combining Multiple Prescriptions or Alcohol

Many drugs can have unexpected interactions that can lead to impaired driving. Always describe the full range of medications you take with your doctor to anticipate and plan around such interactions.

Many medicines can have compounded effects when combined with alcohol, especially pain killers. Be cautious when taking prescription medications and drinking. Ask your doctor if combining alcohol is advisable and whether you should watch out for adverse effects. In most instances, it may be better to get a ride or forego drinking if you are currently taking a prescription.

Have You Been Hit by a Driver Under the Influence of Prescriptions

Police who respond to accident scenes are almost always diligent about checking out if any drivers involved had been drinking or using illegal drugs. However, they may not ask the driver who caused the accident if they are currently taking any prescription medicines. They may also overlook the importance of the driver’s medication admitted to taking.
No matter the circumstances, those who have been hurt in a collision may want to speak to a car accident attorney in Miami. Appointing a lawyer ensures that all contributing factors are investigated, increasing the likelihood that the other driver will be found liable for the costs of your injury.

Suppose you have been hurt in an accident and suspect or know the other driver had been using prescription medications. In that case, you can explore your legal options for filing a personal injury claim during a free appointment with one of our car accident lawyers. Schedule your free, confidential, no-obligation consultation now when you call (800) 916-8108 or contact us online.

About the Author

Michael Steinger
Michael Steinger

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MICHAEL S. STEINGER, founding partner of Steinger, Greene & Feiner, believes in representing real people, not big businesses. Since the firm’s creation in 1997, Steinger, Greene & Feiner has never represented an insurance company or large corporation, and he vows to keep this promise. Over the course of his career, Michael has handled thousands of Florida accident cases, recovering millions of dollars for his clients and earning him membership into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Staying up-to-date on the ever-evolving laws protecting injury victims and their families, Michael is an active member of the American Bar Association, the Palm Beach, and St. Lucie Bar Associations, and sits on the Auto Insurance Committee of the Florida Justice Association.