The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Driving and Prescription Drugs Can be a Lethal RX

October 2004, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

As a business driver, any time you use an over-the-counter or prescribed medication, you must consider the risk and the effect it might have on your ability to drive. Impairment from alcohol and illegal drugs is a leading cause of vehicle crashes, but impairment can also be caused by many common prescription and over-the-counter medications, reports the National Safety Council, which recently launched a public service campaign to educate Americans about the hazards of drug-impaired driving. Some medications, such as antihistamines used to treat allergies and anti-anxiety medications, may affect driving by inducing drowsiness or excitability or by altering reaction times. Other medications, including some cold and cough medications, sleeping pills, and painkillers, can also impair driving skills.

Non-prescription drugs, by law, must provide adequate directions for use. Before taking these drugs, read their labels to determine what effects, if any, they might have on your ability to drive. Because of potential side effects, most non-prescription drugs carry warnings against driving while taking them. People sometimes ignore these warnings. A survey of allergy suffers showed that 61 percent of those who take non-prescription allergy medications drive despite warnings against doing so. Other research undertaken by the American Medical Association indicates that one in every two prescription drugs is not taken correctly. In addition, 30 percent of prescription drugs are misused in ways that threaten health. If there is no warning label for the medication, ask your pharmacist how the medication should be taken, for instance, before or after a meal, and the potential side effects. If in doubt, you can always call the pharmacist, even if you are on the road.

“The effects of impairment vary with each person, but can generally be defined as a change in a person’s ability to perform routine daily tasks at the normal level of functioning,” said Alan McMillan, president of the National Safety Council. “Impairment can affect driving ability, among other things, but changes can often be difficult to identify. In fact, people may be drug impaired and not realize it.” Signs and symptoms of impairments are drowsiness, excitability, altered reaction times and altered depth perception.

Danger Signals

In many cases, drivers should avoid drugs entirely when driving is necessary. In any case, by law, drug use is the driver’s responsibility.

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist how prescribed drugs might affect your ability to drive safely.
  • Read labels and follow instructions exactly.
  • Never take more than the recommended dose.
  • Don’t mix medications without first checking with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
  • Don’t mix alcohol with medications.
  • Don’t take drugs or medicines prescribed to other people.
  • Be cautious of newly advertised drug products when you don’t know their side effects.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about non-impairing alternatives.
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