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Do your medicines make you an unsafe driver?

A smiling older couple seen through the window of an older model car.

Jan. 28, 2022—Every day, more than 20 adults ages 65 and older are killed in traffic crashes. And almost 700 are injured, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That's despite the fact that older adults generally are safer drivers than drivers in other age groups. Older drivers are more likely to:

  • Wear seatbelts.
  • Drive when conditions are safest.
  • Not drink and drive.

But older drivers are also more likely to be taking multiple medications. And that can be a problem.

How medication can affect your driving

Medication side effects can affect your ability to react and stay alert behind the wheel. This is especially true of certain types of medicine, including heart medications, pain medications, muscle relaxers, sleep aids and mood medicines, among others. And the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely it is that they take some of these problematic pills.

According to CDC, if you take medicine that causes any of the side effects below, you may be at higher risk for crashes on the road:

  • Changes in vision.
  • Changes in awareness.
  • Poor balance.
  • Slower reaction time.
  • Fainting or passing out.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Poor muscle coordination.
  • Tiredness.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting when standing up.
  • Difficulty concentrating.

The best way to know: Ask

Make a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take and show it to your doctor. Ask if any of them might affect your driving skills. If so, there may be alternative medicines that would be safer.

At some point, you might want to consider alternatives to driving. These could include riding with a friend or family member; using Dial-A-Ride, taxis and other ride-sharing services; or taking public transportation.

As you get older, physical and mental changes can also affect your driving ability. But there are steps you can take to be as safe as possible on the road. Learn more about safe driving for seniors.

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