Think Twice Before Driving Sick—You May Be Impaired

You wake up, shut off your morning alarm and notice the tell-tale tickle in the back of your throat and a bit of congestion in your chest.

You don’t want to burn up your vacation time because of a little cold, so you get up and raid the bathroom medicine cabinet for something to help knock out your symptoms—opting for some cold pills.

You continue with your morning routine, which includes a drive to the office. You're good, right?


The sad truth is that drivers with colds may be just as dangerous as those driving drunk. In fact, it's estimated that motorists' driving skills drop by about 50 percent when they are under the weather while behind the wheel.

In fact, experts say about a million people with colds drive on U.S. roadways every day—and many don't realize that they may be driving impaired.

Since December is Impaired Driving Awareness Month, the car accident injury attorneys at Edgar Snyder & Associates wanted to be sure everyone understands that drugged driving encompasses more than illicit substances like marijuana and opioids—over-the-counter and prescription cold and flu medicines can impair driving.

Presenteeism and the Epidemic of Driving Sick

It's a new phenomenon—presenteeism—and it happens when employees show up to their shifts at work even when they are too ill to complete their jobs at full capacity.

It costs businesses millions of dollars in lost productivity each year, and means that sick drivers are traversing the roadways, many while under the influence of cold and flu medications that have side effects that can seriously affect their ability to operate a car or other heavy machinery.

It's all there in the fine print, of course—drug warnings addressing everything from drowsiness to dizziness.

Heeding Drug Label Warnings

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even sounded the alarm in 2014: Some over-the-counter drugs can absolutely affect your driving.

That means if you know you have to drive to work or anywhere else while you're ill, be sure to look at—and follow—the drug warnings on the label.

If the label includes any of these side effects, think twice before taking them prior to driving:

  • Sleepiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed movement
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Difficulty concentrating

You should also consider:

  • Timing of doses. Some medications cause immediate side effects, while others are delayed. Some medications cause a hangover-like effect, which can impact your ability to drive even the next morning. Be aware of how the drug works on you before you attempt to drive after taking it.
  • Drug interactions. Before taking a medication and then climbing behind the wheel, be sure you understand how it interacts with other OTC or prescription medicines you might be taking, as well as alcohol and supplements. It's possible for one to intensify the side effects of another.
  • The active ingredient. It's always prudent to know what the active ingredient is in each of the medications you are taking—and to avoid double-dipping. A double dose of some medications can cause side effects to be more severe.

Avoiding an Impaired Driving Accident

It's a startling statistic: More than 16 percent of weekend or nighttime drivers tested positive for drugs—including prescription and OTC. In 2009, 18 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one drug.

The car accident injury attorneys at Edgar Snyder & Associates have seen the devastation caused by impaired driving, and we don't want you to be part of that statistic.

If you're under the weather but need to drive, be sure to make safety your number-one priority by taking these few steps before you climb behind the wheel:

  • Ask a Pharmacist. If you're unsure of how a certain medication or active ingredient might affect you or interact with another medication, be sure to ask a pharmacist. They might be able to help recommend another OTC option that will combat your symptoms without impacting your ability to drive.
  • Watch the Dosage. Never take more of a medication that is recommended. Taking too much of some common OTC drugs—such as Dextromethorphan (DXM)—can cause serious side effects like hallucinations.
  • Consider Adjusting When You Take It. If you notice that a particular medication keeps you up at night, consider taking it in the morning. Taking a drug that makes you dizzy? Consider taking it after work or before bed.

Be well, and be safe this cold and flu season!

"Is Driving with a Cold the Same as Driving Drunk," ABC, Jan. 5, 2012 FDA

National Institute on Drug Abuse



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