Pramipexole is a non-ergot dopamine agonist used to treat Parkinson's disease (PD). Because of concern regarding driving safety, we evaluated the incidence and nature of somnolence experienced by patients receiving pramipexole in clinical trials at our center. A retrospective chart review was performed and structured interviews were conducted with patients who had reported moderate or severe somnolence. In addition, two patients underwent polysomnography (PSG) and multiple sleep latency tests (MSLT) while on and 2 weeks after discontinuation of pramipexole. Forty patients with PD participating in pramipexole clinical trials were identified. In the double-blind phases of the studies, 22 patients were randomized to pramipexole and 18 were randomized to placebo. Six patients assigned to pramipexole reported somnolence as an adverse event (1 moderate, 5 mild) compared with two patients assigned to placebo (1 severe, 1 moderate; p = 0.19, one-tailed Fisher's exact test). Thirty-seven patients participated in open-label extension studies. Twenty-one (57%) reported somnolence as an adverse event. Eleven (30%) patients reported moderate somnolence and three (8%) patients reported severe somnolence. For patients with moderate or severe somnolence, the onset of worst-reported somnolence occurred at a mean (+/- standard error) pramipexole dose of 4.0 +/- 0.4 mg (range, 0.75-4.5 mg) per day. Patients had been taking pramipexole for a total of 10.0 +/- 1.5 months (range, .03-22 mos) and at their maximal dose for 6.7 +/- 1.5 months (range, .03-20 mos). During structured interviews with 12 of the 14 patients reporting moderate or severe somnolence, seven reported falling asleep while driving and two reported minor motor vehicle accidents caused by falling asleep. Most patients reported relatively continuous drowsiness that led to falling asleep without acute warning during periods of inactivity. Three patients reported discreet waves of irresistible sleepiness heralded by prodromal symptoms occurring against a background of normal wakefulness. MSLT in two of these patients revealed decreased latency to sleep without early onset of rapid eye movements. Sleep latency normalized after withdrawal of pramipexole. Intensive patient education is necessary to prevent motor vehicle accidents in patients taking pramipexole. We recommend that patients who are experiencing generalized drowsiness and falling asleep during periods of inactivity be instructed not to drive because these patients do fall asleep without acute warning. Somnolence usually resolves with pramipexole dose reduction or discontinuation. Patients should also be alerted to pull over and stop driving immediately if they feel a wave of sleepiness coming on. Patient education and compliance are critical to maximize safety.