Alcohol and illegal drugs are not the only substances that impair safe driving. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications may have effects that cause dizziness, fatigue, fainting, and blurred vision, slow movements, and reduce attention.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety issued a study that addressed the use of potential impairing medications, especially by drivers, in this country. Motorists who take one or more of these medications are generally unaware of their risk of being involved in motor vehicle accidents.
The study was administered from July to August of 2021. Results are based on answers from 2,657 licensed drivers who were at least 16 and drove within the 30 days before they answered the questionnaire. Drivers were asked if they took the following drugs:
- Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl and other antihistamines or cough medicines.
- Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin and other antidepressants.
- Prescription pain medications such as Tylenol with codeine, Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin.
- Soma, Flexeril and other muscle relaxants.
- Sleep aid medications including barbiturates and benzodiazepines such Ambien, Lunesta, phenobarbital, Xanax, Valium and Ativan.
- Adderall, Dexedrine, phentermine and other amphetamines.
Almost half of the surveyed drivers said that they used one or more PDI medications in the previous 30 days. Approximately one in five drivers reported that they used two or more medications. Antihistamines or cough medicines were the most commonly used medications. One-third of drivers took these medications.
Almost half of respondents who used these medications said that they drove within 2 hours of taking at least one PDI medication. These figures were higher for 63.3% of the respondents who took at least two medications, or 70.8%, who took three or more PDI medications.
Drivers who were warned about the effects of a PDI medication were 18% less likely to have driven within 2 hours of taking that medication. Accordingly, the report contained data on the drivers who remembered receiving warnings.
The proportion of drivers who took prescribed medications who remembered receiving warnings from their doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects was the lowest for those taking antihistamines or cough medicines. This was the highest for drivers taking sleep aids, barbiturates or benzodiazepines.
Patient education may be insufficient.
Many states imposed strict policies requiring pharmacists to counsel patients about the effects of medications and having prompts integrated into pharmacy software. Other strategies involved rescheduling drugs with acceptable and available substitutes and limiting access to over-the-counter PDI medications by placing them behind pharmacy counters.
Impaired drivers, even those taking legal and over-the-counter medications, may cause serious injuries. Attorneys can help accident victims seek compensation and file a timely lawsuit.