How Prescription Drugs Can Cause Auto Accidents

By Raleigh + Durham Personal Injury Attorneys at Hyland, Padilla & Fowler, PLLC

Most of us understand that prescription drugs and driving do not mix. Prescription drugs can dramatically increase the risk of car accidents and injury to yourself or others. Many prescription drugs create effects similar to alcohol and are equally dangerous substances to be under while driving. Prescription drugs elevate the risk of a DWI charge in Wake County.

According to WebMed, about 55 percent of the population is taking prescription drugs at any time. Knowing the effects of a specific drug can help you mitigate or reduce the liability of drugged driving and the risk of an auto accident.

Antihistamines / Allergy Medications

Allergy season in North Carolina is no joke, and some people require heavy medications to keep the allergy symptoms at bay. Unfortunately, most antihistamines also induce drowsiness and will probably slow your reaction times. This puts you and others around you at greater risk of personal injury while driving drowsy. You may feel OK enough, but falling asleep at the wheel is no joke, and you have the potential to seriously hurt or kill others around you if you are asleep or drowsy at the wheel.


According to an NBC News report, about one in six Americans takes antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft. Many of these people regularly drive while under the influence of these drugs.

Although it’s generally considered safe to drive when taking antidepressants, some studies indicate that people who take antidepressants have more difficulty concentrating and have a slower reaction time behind the wheel. Secondary side effects may include dizziness, insomnia & blurred vision.

A 2014 AAA study found that certain antidepressants can increase the risk of a crash by as much as 41 percent.

Sedatives and Tranquilizers

Sedatives were invented to calm our anxious and sleep-deprived society. Many people find heavy tranquilizers, such as Xanax or Valium, and sedatives such as Ambien, to be useful in helping them sleep.

However, sedatives often come with side effects such as drowsiness,  memory issues, balance issues, reduced reaction time, and muscle dysfunction.

Motorists who are under the influence of sedatives often can’t maintain their lane, can’t react quickly, and may not understand or comprehend traffic signals or approaching obstacles. Specifically, with prescription medications like Ambien in particular, there is a huge risk of personal injury and auto accidents if sedatives are used while driving. People have reported being ‘blacked-out’ on Ambien and not remembering any actions they did. This is a recipe for disaster on the road and may cause personal injury and criminal/civil liabilities to the motorist who causes an accident with these drugs in their systems.

Pain Medications

Prescription pain medications can come in a variety of forms and concentrations. Each pain medication reacts with each persona individually. While some people may be able to drive with no impairment whatsoever, others may feel drowsy, light-headed, and confused by their environment. Several studies have suggested that driving while under the influence of opioids is associated with a higher risk of car crashes.

Cough Medications

Coughing is indeed painful and the relief medication works quickly to soothe a nasty cough. Be careful though. Many cough medicines contain codeine, hydro-codeine, ephedrine, or pseudoephedrine. Pseudo-ephedrine in specific has been banned since 2006 for over-the-counter sale, as it is a critical precursor for methamphetamine and crystal meth. Taking these medications can cause dizziness, sleepiness, sluggishness, and other symptoms that could cause you to drift off at the wheel or reduce your concentration and lead to an auto accident.

Taking Precautions on Prescription Meds & Drug Combos

Each individual is unique, and their body chemistry will dictate how they or react to certain medications or combinations of medications. There are some combinations we know are extremely bad, such as pain medication and sleep medications, or any prescription drug consumed with alcohol. Be cautious about how much and which substances you consume before going out in public. The risk of auto accidents and personal injury is far greater when drugs are combined or consumed at the same time.

If you do become involved in a car accident in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, in which prescription drugs were a factor, call our experienced auto accident attorneys as soon as possible to understand your rights and the potential action you may take to fully recover from your accident.

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