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Prescription Drugs May Impact Driving Performance

Prescription drugs and driving

Drugs can impact driving performance. This is true of legal as well as illegal drug use. This is true for some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as Benadryl and anti-histamines. It can also be true for prescription drugs such as pain and sleep-aid medications. Taking more than one medication at a time can have an additive effect.

It is estimated that by 2030 over 70 million Americans will be over age 65. This age group has a higher rate of fatality and injury in motor vehicle crashes per mile driven than any other age group except for teenagers. Many age-related factors are known to impair driving ability, including age-related decrements in cognitive and physical functioning, increased prevalence of medical conditions or age-related medical conditions, and increased use of multiple medications.

Researchers at the Center for Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have found that many drivers, especially older drivers, are unaware that their prescription drugs can impact their driving performance. Only 28% of the 630 drivers aged 56 to 93 survey reported receiving a warning from a health-care professional about potential driver-impairing (PDI) medications.

To qualify as a PDI medication, the medication has to be associated with known effects on the central nervous system, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, vision, or otherwise have the potential to interfere with driving skills. Possible PDI effects include sedation, hypoglycemia, blurred vision, hypotension, dizziness, fainting (syncope), and loss of coordination (ataxia).

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PDIs include medications such as ACE inhibitors, antidepressants, sedatives and beta-blockers.

A study from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Association reported the risk of having a motor vehicle crash increased 1.49 times for patients with health problems requiring one or two PDI medications. The risk increased to 2.20 for those with three or more PDIs.

PDI medications are a driving-safety issue for all of society. Health-care professionals need to educate older drivers and their families.

Related stories

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Multiple Medications and Vehicle Crashes: Analysis of Databases (pdf file) – from www.nhtsa.gov