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What Substances Can Impair Your Ability to Drive?

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can have severe consequences - it impairs your driving ability and puts yourself, others, and property in danger. This article will cover the effects of drugs, alcohol, and over-the-counter substances that can impair your ability to drive safely.


Alcohol is the most commonly known substance that can impair your ability to drive. The effects of alcohol on driving are more severe than many other substances, as it slows down a person's reaction time and impairs their motor coordination and judgment. Depending on the amount consumed, the effects of alcohol can last for several hours after ingestion - driving even an hour after drinking can still be dangerous.

Prescription Drugs.

A broad range of prescription drugs can also adversely affect your driving ability. Common medications used to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia can dull reaction time and affect decision making. Additionally, certain painkillers can cause drowsiness, foggy thinking, and slowed reflexes - all of which can make it dangerous to drive. Those who use prescription medication should always check with their doctor or pharmacist about safe driving practices when taking their medication.

Illegal Drugs.

Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Illegal drugs can impair your judgment, reaction time, and alertness while behind the wheel. Certain drugs also make it difficult to stay in your lane or concentrate on traffic conditions, which can put you and other drivers at risk. The penalties for driving under the influence of an illegal substance vary from state to state, but typically include fines, jail time, and license suspension or revocation.

Over-the-Counter Medication.

It's not just illegal drugs that can affect your ability to drive. Many over-the-counter medications and even some prescription medications can also impair your reaction time, judgment, and alertness while behind the wheel. This includes cold and allergy medication, sleep aids, muscle relaxers, antidepressants, antianxiety medications, and even some treatments for ADHD. Be sure to check the warning label on any kind of medication you are taking before getting behind the wheel.

Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation.

Drivers may also find their driving ability impaired by lack of sleep or long hours on the road. Prolonged fatigue can affect reaction time, alertness, and cause slow decision making. Studies show that staying awake for more than 18 hours produces a decrease in cognitive functioning similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. When you are operating a vehicle while significantly sleep-deprived, you can be just as impaired as someone under the influence of alcohol.

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