Prescription Drugs & Driving: A Risk You Shouldn’t Put to Rest
When you’re sick, sometimes you just can`t sleep it off – you’ll need to take meds. And if you’re one of those individuals who battles a serious or chronic illness, taking a certain drug may not be an option. But that may cause problems. Many of these medications carry the side effect of drowsiness, which is a mild issue in general, but dangerous when you’re behind the wheel. In fact, there’s an epidemic of people who hit the roads while experiencing sleepiness from their medications. Prescription drugs and driving don’t mix, especially if they make it hard to stay awake. If you find that your medication tends to put you to sleep, it’s important for you take action. Drowsy driving is by no means a minor issue.
One Dosage, Many Consequences
When you think of impaired drivers, the image of a drunk person who can barely walk in a straight line comes up. You know the scene – an officer smells a driver’s breath, get’s them to blow into a breathalyzer and makes them walk along meter lines. In many cases, the driver comes up short and ends up with the unpleasant DUI charge.
But many responsible citizens who would never drive intoxicated on purpose, are doing so. 1 in 5 Canadians (approximately 20%) have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel for various reasons. Within that statistic, it’s safe to say that many of those who have nodded off while driving, are individuals who took medications that rendered them slow and sleepy.
That isn’t to say all medications are bad, but it’s important for you to take their side effect risks seriously. Depending on factors such as the dosage you take and your body type (build, weight etc), certain medicines will affect you differently than others. That’s why it’s possible for one person to take a pill or tablet and feel no side effects, while another person can take the exact same medication and have difficulty staying awake and on task.
Don’t take this lightly. The consequences of falling asleep at the wheel can be devastating. Collisions with other cars or single-car vehicles can result in life-changing injuries or worse. Even if you were to walk away from an accident, the costs and time involved with having to repair a damaged vehicle could be overwhelming.
Another problem that arises from taking these medications is the risk of getting pulled over. As mentioned earlier, alcohol isn’t the only substance that impairs drivers. There are countless stories of drivers getting charged for impaired driving because of the medications they take.
A notable example of this involved Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late senator Robert. F Kennedy. On July 3rd, 2012, after she accidentally took 10mg of Ambien, a medication for insomnia, she jumped into her car and ended up driving erratically. She sideswiped a tractor-trailer in Westchester County (in New York state), and was eventually found slumped over her steering wheel. Kennedy went on to claim that she had no recollection of the drive. Ultimately, she was acquitted of criminal wrongdoing after the prosecution determined the event to be a complete accident.
Unfortunately, there’s a ton of drugs out there which come with the side effect of drowsiness. Among them are obvious offenders, but there are also those which may come as a surprise.
Sometimes, the allergy season is unbearable, and the tissue box alone won’t help you. Antihistamines are a drug of choice (and a much cheaper alternative for treatments such desensitization) due to their low cost and high availability – they’re considered over-the-counter (OTC) medication in many provinces and cities (although some require a prescription). Some users of these medications report feeling profound drowsiness, sometimes after just one dose. Among these medications are brand-labelled drugs like Allegra, Benadryl and Claritin. Fortunately, many of these drugs are available in non-drowsy forms.
With rising rates of mental health disorders, more people are relying on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs for relief. They definitely ease the symptoms of many sufferers, but sometimes, at the cost of their alertness. There have been more media reports of these drugs causing such problems, and it’s important to keep an eye out for such effects if you take them.
Naturally, sleeping pills are on this list since their very nature is to allow an insomniac to fall asleep. They do work. However, these drugs are formulated to allow chronically sleep-deprived people to sleep for at least 7 – 8 hours. The danger here, is that some individuals ignore the warning to only drive after feeling fully rested. As a result, they end up hitting the road before they’ve reached a state of peak alertness. Drugs such as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata are known to cause excessive daytime drowsiness, so it’s important for you to take precautions if you use these medications.
Heart, cholesterol & diabetes meds
Due to poor diets, lack of exercise and high stress, rates of heart problems and diabetes are on the rise in North America and throughout the world. Although many people who acquire (or inherit) these conditions manage them naturally, others with difficult symptoms rely on medications to keep them under control. Unfortunately, daytime drowsiness is one of the unpleasant side effects these drugs may bring upon their users.
Cold & Flu meds
As you get older, the luxury of nursing a cold or flu by sleeping in or eating chicken noodle soup isn’t always available. You will have to numb the effects and get on with your day. However, the medications that provide such relief often lead to drowsiness, making your daily drive more challenging and risky. Brand-label drugs such as NyQuil/DayQuil and Theraflu are known to cause excessive daytime sleepiness.
A 5 Step Plan for Driving Awake
Unlike alcohol and recreational drugs, there are no laws prohibiting the practice of taking prescription drugs and driving. However, if you were found in an impaired condition by police, or deemed at-fault in accident, you could face hefty fines and criminal charges. Even more critical, are the risks you would pose to yourself and others. That’s why it’s important to plan your drive ahead of time if you take medications that could put you to sleep behind the wheel.
Do the Following Before Driving
- Check side effects for drowsiness – Most drugs will tell you on the bottle or information sheet if drowsiness is a side effect. Always check for this (and other effects) before using.
- Schedule your driving accordingly – Avoid driving at the times you feel most drowsy, or adjust your sleep schedule or the time you take the medicine if possible. Make sure to drive only when you feel FULLY awake.
- Have a licensed/experienced driver with you if you must drive – Perhaps you can’t adjust your schedule. One solution is to have an experienced driver present, to keep you awake or swap with you if necessary. This can be your spouse or workmate.
- NEVER combine medications or take with alcohol – Generally, drinking alcohol before driving is risky, but drinking it with certain medications can make drowsiness even worse. So it’s wise to avoid this practice altogether. Also, avoid combining certain medications with each other since they can increase the likelihood of you feeling drowsy.
- Speak with your doctor about the dosages – If your condition isn’t too severe, your doctor may allow you to reduce the dosage you currently take. An adjustment in dosage is often all that’s needed to keep you more awake during the day.
Taking a prescription drug may be a necessary evil for you. Drowsy driving is not. A DUI charge isn’t out of reach, even if there are no laws to prevent you from taking medications before hitting the road. The only rule when it comes to prescription drugs and driving, is to act responsibly. If you know you have a problem with daytime drowsiness, prepare ahead if you plan to drive. Not only will you spare yourself from legal consequences, you just may save the lives of others as well as your own.