Most people wouldn’t consider driving drunk because they know it is dangerous and illegal.  However, many of the same people don’t think twice about driving on medications because they are unaware of the danger.

A recent AAA survey reported that nearly 50% of drivers drove under the influence of potentially impairing medications (PIMs) in the past 30 days. Even more concerning, many of these drivers took multiple PIMs simultaneously. Furthermore, many such drivers were never warned about the possible dangerous effects of the medications while driving.

What to Do If Injured by An Impaired Driver

Call 911.  You should call 911 after any car accident with injuries.  However, it is especially important to call the police if you believe the driver is intoxicated.  Note any signs of intoxication and report them to the police.

Gather the driver’s contact information.  Get the driver’s name, address, phone number, and insurance details.

Take photos of the accident, including all vehicles and the damage to each.  Take pictures of the license plates.  Take photos of your injuries.  If you are too injured to take photos, have someone else do it. 

Seek treatment for your injuries and continue treatment as directed by your doctor.  Do not wait to get treatment or stop treatment early.

Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer right away after the accident and before you contact an insurance company.  If you have already talked to an insurance company, there is still time to get a personal injury lawyer.

Which Medications Are Dangerous for Drivers?

Many people associate impaired driving with alcohol or illegal drug use.  However, over-the-counter and prescription medications can also be dangerous – especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs.  Medications that could make it unsafe to drive include:

Sleep medicines.  Many people take sleeping medications to combat insomnia and help them sleep.  However, sleeping medications can impair your ability to drive, even the next day.  Side effects may include sleepiness/drowsiness, slowed movement, and inability to focus or pay attention.  The Food and Drug Administration says that all insomnia medications can affect your ability to drive.

Allergy medicines.  People who suffer from allergies commonly use antihistamines for relief.  However, antihistamines can affect your ability to drive.  They can slow your reaction time, make focusing difficult, and cause confusion.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions to avoid combining antihistamines with alcohol or sleep medication because the sedative effect may increase.  Some common antihistamines like Benadryl have warning labels that the product may cause marked drowsiness.

Antidepressants.  Antidepressants can cause impairment, especially when taken with alcohol or other medication.  Advanced age, high dosing, rapid escalation of dosing, presence of severe depression symptoms, and start-up dosing are factors that heighten the risk of impairment.  Suppose you start taking antidepressants or increase your dose.  In that case, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends not driving until you know how the drug will affect you.  There is less risk of impairment for people who start with lower doses, maintain stable and routine doses, and are not elderly.

Painkillers.  Painkillers include opioids such as oxycontin, Vicodin, Codeine, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl.  Prescription opioids treat moderate to severe pain, such as following surgery or injury.  However, opioids are widely prone to abuse, addiction, and overdose.  Opioids are unmistakably dangerous – more than 75% of overdose deaths in 2021 involved opioids. 

The USA is currently in an opioid epidemic, which means many people are taking opioids while performing daily tasks such as driving.  Side effects of opioids include sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, depression, and nausea – all of which affect a person’s ability to drive safely.  Factors that increase the risk of driving while impaired on opioids include non-prescription use, combined use with other drugs, and start-up use.  Studies have shown that driving on opioids can double your risk of an accident.

Muscle relaxers.  Muscle relaxers treat muscle pain and muscle spasms.  They can also facilitate better sleep.  Muscle relaxers are becoming more common as a safer alternative to opioids.  The most common side effects of muscle relaxers are drowsiness and difficulty concentrating.  As such, physicians often caution people not to drive or operate machinery while on muscle relaxers.  Mixing muscle relaxers with alcohol or other medications can cause excessive sedation – making it dangerous to drive.

Stimulants.  Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy.  They commonly treat ADHD, narcolepsy, asthma, and nasal congestion.  Stimulants include over-the-counter medications like caffeine pills, prescription drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, and illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.  Some drivers use stimulants to combat fatigue.  However, stimulants are not a real cure for drowsiness and may give drivers a false sense of security.  Moreover, stimulants may have side effects like headaches, the jitters, insomnia, irritability, and nervousness, which affect the ability to drive safely.

Anti-anxiety medications.  Depressants treat anxiety, panic attacks, stress, and sleep disorders.  They can cause drowsiness, sleepiness, confusion, headache, dizziness, problems with movement and memory, feeling lightheaded, and other side effects.  Combining depressants with alcohol or other drugs exacerbates the effects and can cause injury or even death.

Impaired Drivers are Liable for Accidents

It is illegal to drive under the influence of any substance that makes it dangerous for you to drive, whether the doctor prescribed it or not.  You can be arrested and charged with a DUI for driving under the influence of a medicine that a doctor prescribed.  The fact that you consumed a drug legally, or even at a doctor’s recommendation, is not an excuse for driving impaired.  Impaired drivers and their insurance companies are responsible for the damage they cause. 

People who drive big rigs, delivery trucks, and other large vehicles should be especially careful not to drive while impaired by medication.  Accidents involving big trucks are rarely minor due to the size and weight of the vehicle.  Commercial drivers are permitted to use prescription medications, but only as prescribed by a doctor, so long as the medication does not impede the driver’s ability to drive safely.

How to Avoid Driving Impaired

Not all medications are dangerous for drivers.  On the contrary, evidence suggests that some medications may improve driver performance under the right circumstances.  As such, we recommend following these safety tips for driving while using medication:

Consult with a doctor.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist how your medications could affect your driving ability.  Ask how you can avoid driving risks while treating your medical condition.  Options may include:

  • Timing your doses to avoid times when you need to drive (such as right before bed)
  • Adjusting how much medication you take
  • Using alternative medications that will not impair your driving ability

Tell your doctor about all medications you are taking and any reactions you experience.

Read the warning labels.  Whether the medicine is prescription or over the counter, read the warning labels on the medication and heed them.  If you have questions, ask a doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Don’t underestimate the risks.  Even over-the-counter medications can affect your decision-making and make it unsafe for you to drive.  Just because a drug is legal to consume does not mean it is safe for driving.  Even legally consumed medications can cause an accident or lead to an arrest for driving under the influence.


It’s hard to tell how many accidents are attributable to medications because a reliable roadside test does not exist.  However, the NHTSA makes clear that it is never safe to drive while impaired.  The general rule is ’if you feel different, you drive different,’’ so don’t drive if you feel tired, slow, dizzy, or unfocused due to medication.  When in doubt, take an Uber, call a taxi, or get a ride from a friend.

If you were injured in an accident and believe the other driver was impaired, contact us today to receive a free evaluation of your case.  You will have the opportunity to meet with one of the best personal injury lawyers in San Diego to discuss legal strategies that can help you win your case.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Sobering Facts: Alcohol Impaired Driving

Food and Drug Administration – Taking Z-drugs for Insomnia?  Know the Risks

Food and Drug Administration – Some Medicines and Driving Don’t Mix

National Library of Medicine – Benadryl

National Library of Medicine – Driving on Antidepressants

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Dangers of Driving After Taking Prescription Drugs or Over-the-Counter Medicines

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Opioids – Data Analysis & Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Opioids – Prescription Opioids

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Opioids – Opioid Basics

Congressional Research Service – The Opioid Crisis in the United States: A Brief History

National Library of Medicine – Opioid Use and Driving Performance

National Institute on Drug Abuse – Drugged Driving

National Institute on Drug Abuse – Prescription Stimulants

National Library of Medicine – Stimulants

National Institute on Drug Abuse – Prescription CNS Depressants

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code § 23152(f)

California Department of Motor Vehicles, California Driver’s Handbook – Section 9: Alcohol and Drugs

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, The Motor Carrier Safety Planner – 6.3.3 Drugs (392.4)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Drug-Impaired Driving