Although you might not know it from the many reports of drunk driving in the news (such as the tragic story of 19 year old Eduardo Perez who recently died after being hit by a drunk driver), most people know the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol. However, the risks of driving after taking prescription and over the counter medication are less well known. For instance, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration found in 2009 that 18 percent of fatally injured drivers had at least one illegal, prescription or over the counter drug in their system. Unfortunately, there is no reliable data that looks the connections between the effects of legal drugs on the ability to drive, apart from alcohol.
It is harder for consumers to assess the risk of driving after taking medications, because for many people taking medication and driving are both daily activities. There are as many medications as there are ailments, and each affects the body’s chemistry differently. These wide variations make it less obvious to drivers whether they are engaging in reckless driving or not.
For that same reason, the states, including California, have not set a limit on the level of drugs in the blood system while driving. Although, California Vehicle Code section 23630 does specifically state “The fact that any person charged with [a DUI] . . . is, or has been entitled to use, the drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense . . . .” A 2010 New York Times article explains that law enforcement is much less likely to cite drivers for reckless driving when it appears they are impaired from prescription drugs rather than alcohol because of the lack of a legal limit. As a result, District Attorney’s tend to pursue criminal charges only when extremely high doses of legal drugs are involved in an accident or if a driver mixed multiple drugs. However, the failure of a District Attorney to file suit in criminal court does not prevent an accident victim from suing for damages in civil court stemming from negligent driving after taking prescription or over the counter drugs.
Many drugs affect the ability to safely operate heavy machinery or complete complex tasks, such as driving. Examples of drugs that make drivers susceptible to drowsiness are: cold medications, pain relievers and, of course, sleeping pills (even the morning after). Anti-histamines found in allergy medications can slow reaction time. Conversely, diet pills and other stimulants are associated with aggressive and reckless behavior on the road. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are associated with drowsiness and also trouble paying attention to the road and keeping to one lane. Anti-hypertensive medications can cause fatigue and dizziness. The website Medscape lists additional medications, common doses, and their effects on driving.
The answer to the question, “Should I take my medication and drive?” is often ambiguous. The Federal Drug Administration recommends that you consult with your doctor in order to be completely informed about the risks. Your doctor can also work with you to adjust the dose of your medication or the time which you take your dose to work better with your driving schedule. Self-monitoring is key to safe driving in any situation, but being aware of particular medication’s affect on your body is extremely important because every person is different.
Greg Brod is an experienced personal injury lawyer that helps victims of accidents resulting from the negligence of others. Please contact the Brod Law Firm today for a free consultation.