There has been a sea change in attitudes surrounding drunk driving, but drunk driving is not the only type of impairment drivers face. Many people who would never dream of driving drunk are putting themselves, their passengers and other drivers at risk with medicated driving.
Medicated driving may not be as well known as drunk driving, and it certainly does not get the same amount of attention. Even so, a wide range of commonly prescribed medications can interfere with the ability to drive safety and stay alert. Patients who do not understand the risks of medicated driving do so at their peril.
Whether you are taking a prescription medication to treat a chronic medical condition or just completing a one-time course of medication, it is important to talk to your doctor and understand how the pills you take could impair your ability to drive safety.
The Real Dangers Of Medicated Driving
One of the real dangers of this type of driver impairment is that so few people are even aware of it. Many patients are totally unaware of the dangers that their prescription medications can pose to driving safety, and doctors are often reluctant to discuss these kinds of issues.
Another thing that makes driving while medicated so dangerous is that driving impairment can vary from person to person. One individual may find that their ability to drive safety is completely unaffected by even high doses of maintenance medication, while someone else may feel extremely impaired after just one dose.
It is also important to note that a medication does not have to be prescription-based to be dangerous. Many common over-the-counter medications, from cold remedies that contain alcohol and other sedatives to cough medicines that can impair judgment and driving ability.
If you are dealing with a cold, for instance, you may take a dose of Nyquil to help you sleep through the night and keep your cough at bay. What you may not realize is that the resulting drowsiness may still be there the next morning as you drive to work.
Benadryl is another seemingly benign over-the-counter medication that could make driving less than safe. This common OTC medication is often used to fight seasonal allergies, but its drowsy properties make it particularly dangerous for drivers. In fact, driving while medicated on a prescription or OTC medication can create the same level of impairment as driving after a night at the bar.
Medicated Driving Can Be Worse Than Drunk Driving
In some cases the effects of medicated driving can be even more profound that those of drunk driving. One of the reasons that driving while medicated is so dangerous is the fact that the impairment can take so many different forms.
Anyone who has driven after a beer or two understands the kind of impairment that alcohol can cause, but the impact of taking prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and even supplements are far more varied.
Side Effects Of Medicated Driving
Some of the most troubling reactions that can accompany the use of prescription medications and over-the-counter remedy include sleepiness (never a good thing when driving), blurry vision, an increased in reaction times and a slowing of normal movements and dizziness.
The use of common medications can also create changes in normal judgment and a host of associated problems. Package inserts on prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter medications warn users of an ability to focus or pay attention, clearly an issue that could affect driving safety.
Beyond that, those taking prescription or OTC medications must also sometimes deal with nausea and even fainting spells. That is why it is so important for anyone taking medication to be on the lookout for the signs of driving impairment.
Talk To Your Doctor Before Driving On Medication
Whether you are treating a chronic condition or an acute illness, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor and discuss how the prescribed remedy could impact your driving ability. Your doctor can give you further guidance about the medications you are taking, and help you take steps to make driving safer.
In some cases avoiding the problem of medicated driving will be as simple as assessing your reaction to the medications you are taking. If you are not affected by the issues outlined above, you can talk to your doctor about continuing to drive. If you feel your ability is impaired, your doctor may be able to prescribe a different medication – one with fewer side effects.
Medicated Driving Is A Growing Danger
There are a number of factors behind the growing danger of medicated driving. In some ways the rise in impairment mirrors the increase in prescribing for potentially dangerous medications. Opiate-based painkillers are a good example of this pattern and how it has impacted driving safety can caused patients to suffer.
Sales of prescription opiate-based painkillers have increased fourfold from 1999 to 20101 , and current rates are probably even higher. Since these types of powerful painkillers can interfere with the ability to drive safely, it is safe to assume that the rise in the number of opiate-based painkiller prescriptions has also led to an increase in impaired driving cases.
The statistics for other types of medications that could impair driving safety are just as troubling. The medications prescribed for conditions like anxiety and depression can have a wide range of effects on their users, including an impairment in the ability to drive safely.
Since the percentage of men and women taking anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications keeps rising, there is definitely cause for concern. Recent statistics revealed that almost one in four women between the age of 50 and 64 had used at least one antidepressant during the reporting period. That is a lot of antidepressant use, and it creates a real danger that users will lose their ability to drive safely.
The antidepressant statistics for the overall population are nearly as sobering. Nearly 15% of the overall population reported using antidepressants, and it is safe to assume that some percentage of those users saw an impact on their driving ability while taking those medications.
Prescription painkillers and antidepressants are just two of the many medications that can impair your ability to drive safely and put your passengers and others at risk. Any time you start a new medication, even if it is just an over-the-counter cold remedy, you need to read the package insert carefully and heed the warnings you find there. If there is anything you do not understand, contact your doctor at once.
Medicated driving is intoxicated driving, and many of the same laws that govern drunk driving apply here to. If you get into accident and are found to be impaired, you could face a host of difficult issues, from the loss of your driving privileges to stiff fines and possibly even jail time. It is much better to avoid the problem altogether by recognizing the problem of medicated driving and taking steps to stay safe behind the wheel.
Sources of Medicated Driving
- Psychotropic medications – These are used to aid individuals who suffer mental illnesses or conditions such as depression and anxiety.
As mentioned earlier, some of these medications, like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, have sedative effects, while medications used for ADHD are stimulants.
These medications affect different parts of the brain, and response will vary depending on the individual and other external factors that the person taking medication may not have control over.
The common side effect of some of these medications include, but is not limited to:
- Memory Impairment
All of these, no doubt, can affect a person’s ability to drive safely at all times.
Examples of Psychotropic medications include:
- Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers)
These medications affect chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.
- Illegal Drugs – This source is more commonly associated with drugged driving.
One of the most popular examples here is the use of marijuana. Although some states have already legalized the use of marijuana for medication, we can’t deny that its hallucinogenic effects can take control of your memory and judgment. It also affects your body movements, coordination, and balance.
Meanwhile, cocaine stimulates the brain, which can cause euphoria that can affect a driver’s judgment. Drivers who are on cocaine are more likely to take unnecessary risks while driving. The effect of the drug makes them act without considering possible consequences, threatening the safety of the people (and properties) who share the road with them.
- Non-Prescription Medications – These over-the-counter medications are, in some ways, more dangerous than the other sources mentioned earlier. Why? Anyone can have access to them, but not everyone will be well-informed about their side effects.
Antihistamines, for example, can cause drowsiness.
Taking diphenhydramine (Benadryl) had a similar effect to drinking alcohol, impairing driving abilities without any intention to.
Medications for colds and coughs such as NyQuil can also make a driver feel sleepy if the medicine is taken while driving.
Those medications you use to control diarrhea or stop nausea have the same effect, which adds to feelings of discomfort.
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