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We Americans do two things all the time: drive cars and take medication. AAA recently conducted a study investigating how many drivers are taking potentially impairing drugs and driving. The findings were alarming and even a little disturbing. 

Publix Pharmacist
A Publix Supermarket pharmacy manager retrieves a bottle of antibiotics | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Are prescription medications making us worse drivers? 

We all know that America has a problem with overprescribing potentially harmful and addictive medications. Many have failed to realize how this over-doping culture affects something like driving. Cars have more power than ever, and we are on more drugs than ever. That seems like a rough mixture. 

according to MotorTrend, AAA found that nearly half of the participants in the study admitted that they had taken drugs that AAA has named “potentially driver impairing” (PDI) before driving. The majority of the participants claimed they weren’t aware that the drugs could impair their driving ability. 

Which drugs can impair your driving?

A CVS Caremark Store with drive-thru pharmacy
A CVS Caremark Store with drive-thru pharmacy | Ben Torres/Bloomberg

What AAA surveyed as “potentially driver impairing” include medications like muscle relaxers, sleep aids, amphetamines, antidepressants, antihistamines and cough medicines, and prescription pain meds. 

The disturbing part comes in when AAA found that while nearly 50 percent of the participants took at least one of these drugs, 70 percent admitted to taking three or more of these drugs. AAA says the most common drugs found in the study were amphetamines. Antidepressants came in second place. Following them were antihistamines, prescription pain meds, and muscle relaxers. Sleep aids were unsurprisingly the lowest. We are pretty well aware of what happens when you take sleeping pills. I mean, it’s in the name. 

How to deal with prescription drugs

AAA says the worry is less about how to keep from the drugs but instead about improving on the conversation and information surrounding the effects of these medications. AAA is concerned that medical providers aren’t doing enough to talk to patients about the risks and expectations of the drugs’ effects. 

“Understandably, it may seem impossible for patients to maintain their independence behind the wheel and use the medications they need to stay healthy. It turns out we can achieve both goals, but not without guidance from our doctor or pharmacist,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Our research suggests too few medical professionals provide these warnings or suggest ways patients can navigate this tough challenge.” 

As with many of these meds, people need to take them daily. This poses an obvious challenge because most people in America need to drive at least once or twice a day. 

AAA wants to help drivers be safer

The best advice AAA has after the study is that drivers always ask specifically about how medication might impair their driving. If necessary, patients should feel confident about talking to their doctors about dosage changes or whatever strategy will help keep them and other drivers safe. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we will do in our lives. It’s time we started acting like. 


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