Approximately 50% of drivers said they used one or more potentially impairing medications in the past 30 days, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Moreover, the proportion of those choosing to drive is higher among those taking multiple medications — a worrisome fact.
Drug use and driving don't mix — even if it’s a prescription medication. A 2020 study of multiple trauma centers found that 56% of drivers involved in serious injury and fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
And, a 2020 traffic safety study from AAA Foundation found that most drivers — some 94% — consider driving after drinking alcohol very or extremely dangerous. But, only 87% feel the same about driving after using potentially impairing medications.
Now, the latest study from AAA Foundation explores drivers’ use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and confirms that motorists lack an understanding of their impact on driving, and healthcare professionals are not helping the problem.
For example, healthcare providers failed to warn many respondents who took prescriptions and over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, cough medicines, antidepressants, prescription pain medicines, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, and amphetamines about their possible dangerous impact on driving.
In fact, up to half of drivers who were prescribed and took each type of potentially driver impairing (PDI) medication did not report receiving a warning from their medical provider or pharmacist regarding its possible impacts on driving.
Yet the potential effects can be hazardous when mixed with driving. People may experience dizziness, sleepiness, fainting, blurred vision, slowed movement, and attention problems — all of which can lead to deadly consequences if they occur while behind the wheel.
On the upside, those survey respondents who did receive a warning from a healthcare professional were 18% less likely to get behind the wheel after medication use — highlighting the potential benefit of healthcare providers’ counseling to reduce medication-impaired driving.
The AAA Foundation study also examined which types of drugs people were taking and most apt to use before hitting the road. Antihistamines and cough medicines — many available without a prescription — were most commonly used. However, the proportion of drivers that reported driving after use was highest for those who reported amphetamine use, such as Adderall and Dexedrine.