Taking Multiple Medications Can Increase Crash Risk for Older Drivers

According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly half of all older adults use seven or more medications and are still active drivers. A review of medications found that almost 20 percent of older drivers use medications that are either not recommended or have a limited therapeutic benefit. These drugs are known as potentially inappropriate medication (PIMs). These potentially dangerous medications, including benzodiazepines, first-generation antihistamines, have been shown to cause blurred vision, confusion, fatigue, or incoordination. They can also increase the driver’s chance of a crash by as much as 300 percent.

More than 200,000 65-year-old drivers were involved in traffic accidents in 2016, and over 3,500 people died. A record 42 million Americans 65 years and older drive on America’s roads today. This number is expected to rise significantly over the next decade. They would be the largest driving population.

“There’s a growing number of older drivers who take multiple medications. They may not be aware of the potential impact this can have on their driving,” Dr. David Yang, executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said. This research has shown that older drivers are more likely to take inappropriate medications that could cause impairment in driving.

Researchers from Columbia University, San Diego and Columbia University reviewed medication reports from almost 3,000 older drivers who participated in the AAA LongROAD study. The most common medications reported by older drivers could affect driving and increase crash risk, according to researchers. These medications are:

Choose cardiovascular prescriptions: Treatment of heart and blood vessel conditions (73%)

Prescriptions for select central nervous system agents (CNS). Treats parts of the nervous systems, such as the brain. It includes non-narcotics, narcotics, stimulants, and anti-anxiety medications (70%)

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has previously found that 18% of older drivers have never received a warning about their prescriptions’ impact on their safety. The American Society of Health System Pharmacists has additional data that shows that 34% of older adults have multiple prescriptions, potentially omitting the opportunity to verify how they interact with other medications.

Jake Nelson, AAA director for traffic safety advocacy, research, said, “Ask your doctor or pharmacist as many questions you can to make sure you understand the reasons you need the medication prescribed and how it affects your driving, especially if you take multiple medications.” Ask your healthcare providers questions. They are there to help you. They may be able to save your life.

AAA encourages older drivers and their families, due to the large number of medications they use, to be aware of the side effects of any medications and to be able to understand them before taking the wheel. Drivers should:

Be prepared: Keep a list of all vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medication you use, and bring it with you to any medical appointments.

Ask questions: Discuss your medication list with your healthcare provider at every appointment. Also, ask about possible side effects and interactions that may affect your driving.

Discuss Alternatives: You can reduce your risk by using alternative medications or changing the timing of the doses. This will help to avoid dangerous driving situations.

AAA’s RoadwiseRx allows drivers to learn more about their medications. This online tool is free and can be used to assist drivers and their families in understanding side effects of prescription drugs, herbal supplements, and over-the-counter medication. This tool also alerts you to interactions between medications that could affect your safety behind the wheel. To reduce crash risk, print the report and discuss it with your pharmacist. Drivers seeking additional ways to stay mobile or looking to drive less often due to their medications can find resources for alternative transportation at SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

LongROAD: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety launched a multi-year, ground-breaking research program to better understand the driving habits and trends of older drivers in America. AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal research on Aging Drivers), is the largest and most complete database of senior drivers. It includes 2,990 participants, which has been followed for five years. It will allow for in-depth research on senior driving and mobility, which will help to better understand the risks and devise effective countermeasures.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety was established in 1947 by AAA. It is a non-profit, publicly-funded, 501(c),(3) charitable research and education organization. The AAA Foundation is dedicated to preventing traffic deaths and injuries. It conducts research into the causes of crashes and educates the public about how to reduce them. These materials are developed for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. Visit www.AAAFoundation.org.

AAA: AAA offers financial, travel and automotive services to more than 59,000,000 members through its federation, which includes 35 motor clubs and close to 1,100 branch offices in North America. AAA, a not-for profit, fully tax-paying AAA, has been an advocate for safe mobility since 1902. The AAA Mobile app allows drivers to request roadside assistance, find nearby gas prices, get discounts, book hotels, and map their route. To join, visit AAA.com.

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Updated 01/25/22