Drivers Taking Legal Drugs May Constitute a Prescription for Disaster
Doctors prescribe medications so that they can improve our health, but the use of some prescription drugs prior to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle can lead to serious injury or even death. By now, the public has been inundated with information regarding the risks and loss of life associated with alcohol-impaired driving. Many people also recognize that the liberalization of marijuana laws appears to have prompted a rise in pot-related collisions, but the role of prescription drugs in causing serious crashes has received far less attention.
A study published in the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Public Health Reports suggests that prescription drugs might need to become a greater focus of driving safety efforts. The reason for this is because prescription drugs are a factor in fatal car accidents at three times the rate of marijuana, according to the report. The report also found that accident fatality rates increased even more dramatically when drivers had both prescription medications and alcohol in their system.
The CDC findings are consistent with the conclusions of a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology which revealed that individuals involved in auto collisions were more likely to have taken psychoactive drugs for days or months prior to being involved in a crash. This category of drugs includes benzodiazepines, which frequently are prescribed for depression, insomnia, anxiety, and other related disorders.
Many of these medications have long-acting effects, so consumers might not realize they are still impaired by the drugs for as long as 24 hours after taking the medications. The lingering effects of this class of prescription drugs has been linked to a significant increase in risks of motor vehicle collisions. According to another study (opens PDF) conducted by a research team at McGill University in Montreal, this class of medications was found to increase the risk of injury-causing traffic accidents by 45 percent among the 225,000 subjects. Examples of drugs linked to these higher accident rates include the following, according to experts:
• Clorazepate (Tranxene®);
• Clonazepam (Klonopin®);
• Flurazepam (Dalmane®);
• Diazepam (Valium®); and
• Chlordiazepoxide (Libratabs®).
There are also other common benzodiazepine drugs that impair driving but might lack the long-lasting period of effectiveness of the drugs listed above. Such drugs include the following:
• Triazolam (Halcion®);
• Alprazolam (Xanax®); and
• Lorazepam (Ativan®).
We strongly recommend anyone who is taking or might be taking the above-referenced drugs to consult with a pharmacist or doctor to learn of their effects, including how they influence driving. While the above versions of this class of drug might not have the same long-lasting effects, they will likely have the greatest impact on a person's driving in the hours immediately after the drugs are ingested.
If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident caused by a driver impaired by prescription drugs, use of the drugs pursuant to a doctor's care and a lawful prescription does not relieve the impaired driver of financial responsibility. Such medications come with warnings that advise consumers of the risks of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of the drug. Further, consumers who have been taking such drugs for a period of time will be familiar with their mind-altering effects and tendency to promote drowsiness. Motorists who disregard such warnings and practical experience can be liable for crash-related injuries and fatalities.
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