RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 70 percent of drivers in a survey say they drove less than two hours after taking at least three medicines that could impair their driving ability, a study found.

The study from AAA points out in sharp clarity that those medications — from Benadryl to Adderall — can have many of the same effects on the motor skills and awareness necessary for driving that alcohol can.


“I don’t think it gets talked about enough that prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs can have an effect on you behind the wheel,” said Tiffany Wright, the director of public affairs for AAA Carolinas in Charlotte.

The study of 2,657 drivers ages 16 and older in July and August 2021 found a surprisingly high number of people admitting to driving less than two hours after taking specific types of medicines. 

Those include:

  • 45 percent of those who said they took at least one of those medications.
  • 63 percent who said they took two or more.
  • 71 percent who said they took three or more.

“I think that’s a bit alarming, because we just don’t know what type of side effects they’re experiencing and how that’s affecting their driving behavior,” Wright said.

Among the list of medicines AAA considers potentially driver-impairing are:

  • Antihistamines (Claritin, Benadryl)
  • Antidepressants
  • Prescription painkillers (OxyContin, Vicodin)
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Sleep aids
  • Barbiturates (Ambien)
  • Amphetamines (Adderall)

“It’s important that if you are taking these types of medications, that you’re doing your research, and that you’re making sure that you’re not putting yourself and others on the road in harm’s way,” Wright said.

The point of the study is to raise awareness that prescription and over-the-counter medicines can affect a driver in much the same way alcohol can.

“There are, unfortunately, people are thinking, ‘Hey, I haven’t drank and went out to a party, I haven’t drank with them,’” Wright said. “They’ve taken amphetamine… They’ve taken something to help with their decongestant. And they don’t realize that that is affecting their motor skills back when they’re behind the wheel.”

How does driving after taking medicine compare to driving while drunk? Is one less bad than the other?

It depends, Wright said.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, how does this really compare to drunk driving?’” she said. “And I think that’s the hard part to really put kind of a marker on it, if you will, because we know that drunk driving causes all kinds of impairment behind the wheel — whether it be reaction time, you’re not, you’re not able to focus, you’re sleeping behind the wheel.

“And prescription drugs can have, can mirror those same type of effects,” Wright added. “And I think it all depends on just how much you’re taking, how quickly you’ve taken them before you in fact get behind the wheel.”

The goal is to remind drivers to pay attention to those warning labels on those pill bottles and packages of over-the-counter medicine, Wright said.

Drivers who received a warning about their medications were 18 percent less likely to get behind the wheel after taking them, the study found.

“It’s just like we say when you’re drinking. Have a designated driver, have a plan, call an Uber, let’s call the taxi service. Makes sure that you have those plans in place because we do know that prescription drugs can mirror drunk driving,” she said.