Medicines and machinery

Most medicines don’t have any effect on your ability to drive and use machinery, but some can.

The ones to watch out for are medicines — prescription and non-prescription — that cause side effects such as:

  • drowsiness or tiredness
  • dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
  • confusion or poor concentration
  • shakiness, unsteadiness or anxiety
  • slower reaction times.

These side effects can impair your alertness, co-ordination and concentration, which, in turn, can affect your ability to do complex tasks such as driving and using machinery safely.

Not only prescription medicines

These side effects are not limited to prescription medicines. They’re also associated with some non-prescription medicines, including some pain relievers, antihistamines, and cold and flu tablets.

Will it affect you?

Man considering operating a chainsaw while affected by medicationWhether or not you’re affected by a particular medicine, and the degree to which you’re affected depends on many things, including:

  • the medicine
  • how long you’ve been using it
  • the other medicines you’re using
  • your age.

Some medicines affect nearly everybody who takes them, while others only affect some people. Your pharmacist will usually attach a warning sticker to any prescription medicines likely to affect your ability to drive or use machinery. Non-prescription medicines will usually have a warning on the packaging, along with advice on using the medicine safely.

Some medicines affect you for only a short time, while the effects of others, such as sleeping tablets, may persist for many hours and even into the next day.

For some, the side effects are temporary, so you experience them only for the first few days or weeks after starting a medicine or changing the dose. They may diminish as your body gets used to the medicine or changed dose.

Interactions with your other medicines may increase the severity and duration of these side effects, particularly if any of them have similar side effects. Taking more than the recommended dose or drinking alcohol while using the medicine may also worsen the side effects.

Older people don’t handle medicines as well as younger people, because their kidneys and liver are less efficient. So, they are more likely to be affected by these medicines.

Be medicinewise

  • Doctors and pharmacists know which medicines are most likely to affect your ability to drive or use machinery. When starting a new medicine, ask your pharmacist or doctor if the medicine could affect your ability to do these activities. If it can, ask what warning signs to look for.
  • Make sure your doctor and pharmacist know about all the medicines you’re taking, so they can consider possible interactions with your other medicines when prescribing or recommending a medicine.
  • For prescription medicines, check for any warning stickers on the label, and follow the instructions carefully. For non-prescription medicines, check for any warnings and safety advice on the packaging.
  • Read the consumer medicine information (CMI). In particular, look for the ‘Things you must not do’ and ‘Things to be careful of’ sections. You can you can find your medicine's CMI through the NPS medicines search
  • When starting a medicine or changing the dose, look out for signs that the medicine is affecting your alertness, concentration or coordination. If it is, be cautious, and don’t jeopardise your safety or that of others.
  • If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or ring NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424).

Some of the medicines for these conditions can make it unsafe to drive or use machinery

  • mental health conditions, e.g. depression and anxiety
  • nausea or travel sickness
  • cough, cold and flu
  • sleeping problems
  • severe pain
  • epilepsy
  • heart conditions
  • hay fever and allergies
  • migraine
  • high blood pressure
  • Parkinson’s disease.

NB: This is not a complete list. It includes some of the conditions for which the medicines are likely to affect your ability to drive or use machinery. If unsure, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

For more information