Joyce from Butte writes:
Q: I am 73 years old and recently I have gotten into a few fender-benders. So far the accidents have been minor, but they seem to have started when I was prescribed with some new medications. Is there a possible correlation?
A: Joyce, the short answer is “yes.” In the news, we’re constantly bombarded with alarming reports and statistics about accidents caused by distracted driving and drunk driving. But there’s another driver safety issue which, although it isn’t discussed as often, is just as serious of a problem: drug-impaired driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), many drivers are under the influence of drugs — not just illegal narcotics, but also many legal medications. In a report published in March of 2011, NHTSA describes a survey taken of over 7,000 drivers, in which 11 percent of daytime and 14.4 percent of nighttime drivers tested positive for drugs. CBS News recently reported the states with the highest rates of drugged driving and Montana ranked fifth highest.
But many drivers are unaware of the potentially dangerous impact medications can have on their driving. Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications (including common medications used to treat illnesses like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure) can cause impairments such as drowsiness, dizziness, and blurred vision. Even among drugs generally considered safe for driving, adverse reactions may still occur, and interactions can occur between certain medications and other drugs or alcohol that could dangerously impair your driving performance.
You can still drive safely if you’re taking medication. Here are five tips from Julie Lee, vice president of AARP’s Driver Safety Program, to help you avoid drug-impaired driving — and stay safe on the road:
1. Be aware of the side effects of your medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, and of their potential impact on your driving. Talk with your doctor to discuss your medications and driving activity to see if any changes should to be made to your dosage or prescriptions. Ask your doctor if any medications, or combination of them, should limit or stop you from driving because of side effects.
2. At the pharmacy, request printed information about the side effects of any new medication. If you purchase your medications by mail, mail-order pharmacies have toll-free numbers you can call for questions about your medications.
3. Create a Personal Medication Record. The best way to track your drugs and to help your doctor and pharmacist have the most updated information is to create a Personal Medication Record. Keeping a complete and centralized record allows you to list all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements, the doses, and how you take them. Bring your updated personal record to all of your appointments, and consider providing a copy to the pharmacies you use. For instructions and a template visit: http://aarp.us/medrecord.
4. Observe your reactions. Take note of how your body feels and reacts to various drugs and supplements you may be taking. Keep track of how you feel after taking the medication, noting the time you took it, and be aware of any symptoms you may be feeling. If you feel dizzy, drowsy, or experience blurred vision, let your doctor and pharmacist know.
5. Seek out additional information. If you have questions, you should always speak with your health-care professional, but you can also visit www.aarp.org/health/health_tools for these AARP tools: “Drug Interaction Checker” (for information on interactions among prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal pills and supplements), “Drugs A-Z” (for information on drug interactions, side effects, and more), and “Drug Compare” (see how any two drugs stack up on dosage, side effects, and interactions).
If you’re interested in learning other tips and skills to help keep you and your loved ones safe on the roads, consider taking a driver safety course like the AARP Driver Safety Program, which is available in a classroom or online setting. Upon completion of the course, you may even qualify for an insurance discount. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/driving45 or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).