It's unsafe to drive if you take medication that impairs your driving ability. It’s also against the law to drive when you’re impaired.
Resources for drivers taking medication
Many prescribed medications, and medications purchased over-the counter, can impair your driving just as much as alcohol and recreational drugs. Find out more in our information brochure:
Download information brochure [PDF, 194 KB]
You can also order printed copies of the brochure. Search for 'Are you safe to drive' and complete your details.
Order printed brochures(external link)
Responsible drivers care about the safety of themselves and others
Impaired driving is when your body or emotions have been affected (usually temporarily) in a way that makes you an unsafe driver.
You need to make sure you’re safe to drive before you get in the car.
Many prescribed medications (or those purchased over-the-counter) can impair your driving, as can many recreational drugs and alcohol.
A car crash can happen very unexpectedly. If you’re not fully alert you could be a danger to yourself, other drivers or your passengers. Reactions times are really slowed when they’re impaired.
Safe drivers take responsibility
It's important you talk honestly with your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about your medication (and anything else you're taking) so they can help you stay safe on the road.
Watch more videos on substance impaired driving(external link)
Some of these prescription medications may impair your driving:
- strong painkillers
- depression medications
- heart medications
- allergy medications
- sleeping tablets
- anti-psychotic medications
- epilepsy medications
- addiction treatment
- nausea medications
- anxiety medications.
Find out more by having a conversation with your health professional about the effect your medication may have on your ability to drive.
You need to talk to them about your situation and your medications, as not every medication within each class in the above list will impair driving. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse to help decide whether it’s safe for you to drive.
To avoid driving while impaired you may need to:
- avoid driving altogether when taking medication
- consider avoiding driving at first when taking medication
- not drink alcohol while taking medication.
Before you drive, always check for any of these symptoms:
- feeling drowsy/sleepy
- blurred vision
- feeling weak
- slowed reactions
- nausea, feeling sick
- unable to focus or pay attention
- being easily confused
- slurred speech
- having trouble forming a sentence
- feeling wired and overconfident (although you may not notice yourself).
You may want to ask which symptoms can occur with each medication (if taking more than one).
Be a responsible driver when taking medication
- Always take medication according to the instructions.
- Don’t stop taking medication because you want to be okay to drive.
- Check how you’re feeling after you start a new medication. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse if you’re concerned.
- Check whether you can drink alcohol when taking your medication.
- If your job involves driving or using machinery, tell your doctor or pharmacist, and ask them what you need to tell your employer.
- Ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse how long the effects last. Some medications taken at night may affect you the next morning. Talk about dosage levels and when you’ll need to be careful.
- Talk about the options with your doctor, pharmacist or nurse, such as trying a different medication or dose, or taking your medication at a different time.
- Don’t keep driving if you feel impaired. Call someone to pick you up – or take a bus or taxi.
- Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all medication or drugs you’re taking – prescription, over-the-counter and recreational.
Taking impairing medication, especially when used with alcohol, is a road safety problem in New Zealand
Research shows your chances of having a crash if you're impaired by your medication are much higher than previously thought.
The risk multiplies if you mix alcohol with medication or drugs that may impair driving. It can make you 23 times more likely to fatally crash than drivers who have taken none of these.
In New Zealand 1 in 13 drivers killed on our roads were using strong medication that can impair driving at the time of their crash.
Responsible drivers plan ahead
Talk to the people you live with about how your medications may impair your driving so they can share the driving whenever you need them to.
Think about the following scenarios:
- Have a plan for emergencies or unplanned trips. How will you get to an after hours clinic or the hospital?
- Have a plan for any change in routine. If you take sleeping tablets at night, what will you do differently if you need to pick up a friend at the airport at 6am or collect a family member after a late night in town? Or if you take your medication with dinner, what will you do differently if you’re planning an after dinner trip to friends in the next suburb?
- Plan your alternatives to driving. Could you share a ride with neighbours or workmates, work from home, take the bus or get a lift with friends? Could you delay your trip to later that day or to another day?