Medications: The New DUI

Most of us know that driving on alcohol impairs the ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. But what you might not know is that you are also at risk for hurting or killing yourself or others if you are taking certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs, even if you are taking them as directed. Learn about the unforeseen consequences of everyday medications.

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Every year Americans drive over a billion miles. We get into our cars and trucks and accelerate, steer and brake without realizing what a complex process it is. Driving requires countless nerve transmissions, connections and calculations shuttling back and forth between the eyes, brain and body to decide what to do at a moment's notice. It doesn't matter if you are motoring toward the drive-in window, swerving around a pothole, stopping behind a school bus or merging onto the highway. A driver's ability to navigate safely relies on a sound mind and body.

We already know the effects and consequences of impaired driving caused by alcohol and recreational drugs. The substances quickly barrage the brain to dampen reflexes and thinking, and mar the perception of surroundings. Drivers are unable to react swiftly to control the vehicle they are driving. But an alarming number of drivers are also putting themselves and others at risk of a crash because they are impaired by common over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and prescription medications legally prescribed by their doctors.

When the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety performed a random of survey drivers they discovered that 72% of people over 55, an age group that is most likely to be taking medications for chronic conditions, had no idea that their driving performance could be affected by their medicines. Baby boomers are particularly at risk because they are more likely to take one or more medications routinely for common conditions like high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, abnormal cholesterol and diabetes. Nearly half of all 70 year-olds take up to 5 medications a day.

More than half of 50 year-olds take one or more potentially driver-impairing medications, or PDIs as they have come to be known, defined as drugs that could affect driving ability, even when they are taken as prescribed.

These individuals are unknowingly driving under the influence (DUI).