What Are the Worst Drugs to Be on Behind the Wheel?
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What Are the Worst Drugs to Be on Behind the Wheel?


This post was originally published on March 10, 2015.

Driving under the influence of a substance is just plain stupid for all sorts of reasons, the least being handcuffed and the worst getting killed or imprisoned for years for vehicular manslaughter. Sure, alcohol, coke and heroin are drugs many associate with DUI’s and gnarly pileups. But other more innocuous-seeming drugs might also pose a threat to your A+ driving record, including some that you don’t even need a prescription or an ID to score, according to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Just Stay Home If You’re Sick

Entitled “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk,” the study examines how often illegal drugs cause car accidents. And it may come as a surprise that some of the worst offenders in the study were plain-old over-the-counter meds that anyone, young or old, can get their hands on. Cough suppressants packed with dextromethorphan, for example, can dope you up when you exceed the “take two every six hours” directions. On the streets, the kids call it “robo-tripping.” Though it sounds funny, Robitussin, when abused, can seriously impede both mental and motor skills—which is not exactly recommended for operating a two-ton vehicle.

Benadryl is another no-no. If you’ve got bad allergies, you’re better off wearing a surgical mask, wrapping a scarf around your head or just using non-drowsy Claritin Clear, and, no, that’s not product placement. Dr. John D. Weller of the University of Iowa says Benadryl “may have an even greater impact on the complex task of operating an automobile than does alcohol.”

After the study was completed, NHTSA added a write-up on Benadryl to their website, summarizing the dangerous side effects of the drug and its impact on drivers. The side effects include ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), hallucinations, tremors and convulsions.

Weed Behind the Wheel—No, It’s Not Harmless

As for some of the more usual intoxication suspects, driving while stoned appears to be very bad news. They’re ironing out the kinks on weed breathalyzers and for good reason—pot is a hallucinogen at its core, and if you’re fuzzy on whether the light is green or red, you risk broadsiding or being broadsided, or plowing through an unsuspecting pedestrian. Yeah, good times.

Of course, many people high off weed are also drunk off booze, which compounds the problem. Alcohol heightens the effect of pot, as evidenced in a lethal crash that killed eight people in 2009 on the Taconic State Parkway in New York State.

“The two drugs potentiate each other, at which point one and one don’t equal two anymore,” says Dr. Carol Weiss, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction at Weill Cornell Medical College.

While it’s true you want to be alert behind the wheel, being so hopped up everyone driving around you seems to be moving too slow is also extremely risky. According to NHTSA, coked-up drivers have a penchant for “turning in front of other vehicles, high-risk behavior, inattentive driving and poor impulse control.” Though it may be nice to be behind a coked-up driver when you’re running late to work, it would suck to drive in front of them when they’re running late—you might end up losing your back seat.

Nix the Narcotics

This one’s a no-brainer. If you’re doped up on heroin, Oxy, Vicodin or other narcotics, you’ll have the reflexes of a patient who’s just woken up out of a 10-day coma. These drugs are bad news, period, even if you’re not behind the wheel, and we don’t have to explain why (except we will: highly addictive, potentially fatal).

PCP, meanwhile. was  responsible for an obliterated gas station along with two fatalities in 2013, which sent a 27 year-old to the slammer until further notice (aka life). LSD is another no-no, although acid-takers are often more happy tripping out in Joshua Tree or Oaxaca, Mexico, where they can ponder the nature of the universe—that or undergo a horrific nightmarish trip. “The incidence of LSD in driving under the influence cases is extremely rare,” NHTSA concurs.

Blood on the Asphalt

Whether you’re slapped with a bond of $250,000, a sentence of three days in jail, a vehicular manslaughter conviction or you wind up without your legs and missing an eye, driving under the influence is bad, bad news. Remember those Red Asphalt videos from high school Driver’s Ed class? They’re corny, but pretty dead-on.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.