While the number of drunk driving fatalities has been cut in half since 1980, another cause of car accidents is on the rise: driving under the influence of drugs. And not just illegal drugs like cannabis and cocaine but rather prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. If you're the victim of a car crash or you've recently been prescribed medication and you're simply trying to be proactive and arm yourself with knowledge, here are the reasons why driving while taking prescription drugs is a bad idea and what you can do to maintain your safety on the road without having to toss the bottle.
Why the Concern For Prescription Drug Use and Driving?
It used to be that alcohol was the only thing we had to worry about when it came to DUIs. But now, more and more people are taking regular prescriptions, particularly psychotropic drugs like antidepressants, anxiolytics, benzodiazepines, opioid pain relievers, and medications used to treat ADHD. And these same people have to get behind the wheel to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, this behavior can result in crashes and fatalities. In fact, between 1993 and 2010, the number of drivers who tested positive for three or more drugs almost doubled. And when it comes to traffic fatalities, prescription drugs are three times more likely to be the culprit than marijuana use.
What Does The Law Say?
While the legalities in some states can be sketchy when it comes to driving under the influence of medication, as of December 2014, a total of nineteen states have laws which strictly prohibit a driver from controlling a vehicle while taking certain, prohibited drugs. These are known as drug impaired driving laws or per se laws.
But you don't have to live in one of these states to see the legal ramifications of such activities. According to law enforcement officials nationwide, anyone who chooses to drive after taking prescription medications can be placed under arrest for driving under the influence. And you don't even have to be driving recklessly to get busted. For instance, this truck driver in Maine was pulled over for a loud muffler but showed telltale signs that he was heavily medicated. A blood test revealed he had indeed taken painkillers.
If It's Legal, Is it Safe?
Even if you live in a state where taking medications appears to be perfectly legal, you're putting yourself, and others, at risk. According to the government, almost 22,000 people were fatally injured in car accidents in 2009. Out of that total, 33 percent of those who were tested showed up positive for drugs. This risk includes taking not only prescription drugs but also OTCs like cold medicine, antihistamines, and even diet pills. And your risk goes up if you take multiple pills at once.
Awesome Solutions For Staying Safe On the Road
Don't worry. You don't have to stop taking your meds. There are a number of ways you can be a safe and conscientious driver while also maintaining your health. You might have to make a few adjustments, but they are relatively simple.
Read the label. Does the bottle say that the drug may cause drowsiness, dizziness, or fatigue? Does it advise against operating heavy machinery? These are all warning signs that you should not only avoid that forklift but also driving your car. If necessary, wait until your errands are finished to take your medicine.
Talk with your doctor. Don't be shy about talking with your doctor regarding possible side effects. According to AAA, it's not all that uncommon for doctors to neglect to mention if a drug is safe for operating motor vehicles, and this is particularly prevalent among patients over the age of 55. Many patients don't know that their prescriptions are potentially driver impairing. You need to be the one to ask if your doctor doesn't come forward and specify. If they say to proceed with caution, it's best to avoid jumping behind the wheel.
Request a change. If you're in a situation in which you absolutely must drive—say you're a caregiver or a single parent—and you're the only one who can provide transportation, talk with your doctor about switching to a different medicine with less side effects or one that isn't prohibited from use while driving, especially if you live in a per se state. You can also ask if it's all right to adjust the time of day you take it. And remember, in some states, taking any drug before driving is illegal and must be avoided.
Take precautions. Your risk of becoming hurt in a car accident while taking prescription drugs is much higher at night. So when possible, avoid driving at night or after dark.
Ask for help. Neighbors and family members should be called upon to provide transportation if you must take medication that's unsafe for driving. Don't be too proud to ask for help.
If you ever need legal advice following an arrest or accident involving the use of prescription medication, contact a car crash attorney for help.