Attention seniors: a new study has found that certain medications, including antidepressants, sleep aids, and painkillers, may impair your driving skills. This study took a comprehensive approach, following older adults for up to 10 years and testing their driving abilities with annual road tests. The results showed that seniors using specific classes of medications were nearly three times more likely to receive a failing or “marginal” grade on the road test compared to non-users. While it’s challenging to directly attribute driving impairment to a particular medication, it is crucial for seniors to discuss potential side effects with their healthcare provider and be proactive about their medication management. Read on to learn more about the medications that may put seniors at risk on the road.

Seniors at Risk: Medications That Diminish Driving Skills

Seniors at Risk: Medications That Diminish Driving Skills


As we age, it’s important for us to pay attention to how certain medications may affect our ability to drive safely. A new study has shed light on the potential risks associated with common medications taken by seniors. In this article, we will explore the study findings, factors to consider, advice for seniors and doctors, the role of the pharmaceutical industry, study details, red flags to watch for, and resources for safe driving. By understanding these factors, seniors can make informed decisions about their medications and take proactive steps to ensure their safety on the road.

Study Findings

The study conducted by Dr. David Carr and his colleagues at Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis followed older adults for up to 10 years to assess their driving skills. The researchers found that certain classes of medications were associated with a higher risk of failing the road test. Specifically, seniors taking antidepressants, sedative/hypnotics (sleep medications), or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were nearly three times more likely to receive a failing or “marginal” grade compared to non-users. While the study does not prove causation, it strongly suggests a connection between these medications and diminished driving skills in seniors.

Factors to Consider

When assessing the impact of medications on driving skills, it’s important to consider various factors. According to Dr. Carr, it can be challenging to determine whether a specific medication is solely responsible for diminished driving abilities. Other factors, such as underlying medical conditions or interactions with other medications, may contribute to the decline in performance. However, the study took these factors into account and still found a significant association between certain medication classes and poorer driving performance. Seniors and their doctors should consider these factors when evaluating the potential risks of specific medications.

Advice for Seniors and Doctors

Based on the study findings, both seniors and doctors have a role to play in ensuring safe driving. Seniors should take a proactive approach by asking questions about potential side effects when prescribed a new medication. If any red flags, such as drowsiness or slower reaction times, arise, it’s crucial to consult with healthcare providers. It’s important not to stop taking medications without medical supervision, as abrupt discontinuation can have adverse effects. Doctors, on the other hand, should prioritize discussing medication side effects during appointments and address any concerns or symptoms reported by seniors. By working together, seniors and doctors can optimize medication regimens to minimize the impact on driving skills.

Seniors at Risk: Medications That Diminish Driving Skills

Role of the Pharmaceutical Industry

In addition to the responsibility of seniors and doctors, the pharmaceutical industry has a role to play in ensuring safe driving for seniors. Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA, emphasizes the need for better communication on the risks of driving impairment associated with medications. Currently, these warnings are often buried in the fine print of medication labels. Nelson suggests that the pharmaceutical industry should adopt clearer and more prominent labels to alert users to the potential risks. This way, seniors can make more informed decisions about their medications and take necessary precautions.

Study Details

The study involved 198 older adults who were followed for up to 10 years. None of the participants had signs of cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study. They underwent annual check-ups, including road tests conducted by professional driving instructors. Out of the participants, 35% received a failing or marginal road test grade at some point during the study. The study findings showed that seniors using antidepressants, sleep aids, or NSAIDs had a higher risk of performing poorly on the road test. These results highlight the importance of considering medication use when assessing driving abilities in seniors.

Seniors at Risk: Medications That Diminish Driving Skills

No Link Found for Antihistamines and Anticholinergics

Surprisingly, the study did not find a significant link between antihistamines or anticholinergics and seniors’ driving performance. Antihistamines are known for their potential to cause drowsiness, while anticholinergics can cause side effects like sedation and blurred vision. However, the study suggests that either newer, non-drowsy antihistamines were used by participants or there were insufficient numbers of individuals taking anticholinergics to detect a significant effect. Nevertheless, seniors should still report any concerns about their driving abilities while using these medications to their healthcare providers.

Red Flags to Watch For

For seniors taking medications, there are several red flags that may indicate impaired driving abilities. Feeling drowsy, slower reaction times, or experiencing close calls on the road should be taken seriously. It’s crucial for seniors to communicate these symptoms to their healthcare providers. Consulting with a healthcare provider can help determine whether medication adjustments, such as switching to a different medication or adjusting the dose or timing, are necessary. By reporting these red flags, seniors can proactively address any potential risks and ensure their safety on the road.

Resources for Safe Driving

Seniors can access various resources to promote safe driving. AAA offers resources on safe driving for seniors, including tips and advice for maintaining driving skills. These resources provide valuable information on driver refresher courses, vehicle adaptations, and other strategies to enhance driving safety. Seniors can also consult their local Department of Motor Vehicles for resources specifically tailored to their region. By utilizing these resources, seniors can stay informed and empowered to make decisions that prioritize their safety on the road.


Seniors need to be aware of the potential risks associated with certain medications and their impact on driving skills. The study findings highlight the importance of considering medication use when evaluating driving abilities in seniors. By being proactive and discussing medication side effects with healthcare providers, seniors can optimize their medication regimens to minimize risks. The role of the pharmaceutical industry is also crucial in providing clear and prominent warnings about driving impairment associated with medications. With the right information and resources, seniors can continue to enjoy the independence and freedom of driving while prioritizing their safety and the safety of others on the road.

By Ed

I’m Ed, and I am thrilled to welcome you to Senior Tips - the ultimate online destination for comprehensive reviews and advice on safety and accessibility products for seniors. With a focus on offering reliable and concise assessments, my goal is to guide you towards the best products that prioritize real-life usability, safety features, and value for money. Beyond reviews, I also share practical tips and resources on health, wellness, and senior-friendly technology. Let me be your trusted companion as we navigate the path to a safer and more secure aging journey, making your golden years truly shine.