SALT LAKE CITY — The next time you hit the road, there’s a good chance the older driver in the vehicle next to you is on a medication that may impair driving ability.
According to AAA Utah, more than 80 percent of people 65 and older take medication on a regular basis, but only half of those people have spoken with their physician or pharmacist about possible driving-related risks. And every day, another 10,000 Americans turn 65. Another AAA study found that nearly 1 in 5 older drivers use five or more prescription medications.
To learn about the influence prescription and over-the-counter drugs can have on drivers, check out the free online tool called Roadwise RX at seniordriving.AAA.com.
Roadwise RX was developed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough.
It details the common side effects of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and gives personalized feedback on how medications, herbal supplements and foods interact with each other, causing potential risk for drivers.
With medical conditions typically on the rise as people age, there was a critical need to develop a tool to help older drivers understand the safety risk.
“It’s completely confidential,” Fairclough said. “Once you learn about the potential side effects and interactions of your medications, we encourage you to speak with your doctor about how it can affect your driving.”
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, drivers 65 or older were in a car crash every 95 minutes in 2010, the latest statistics available.
In comparison, teenage drivers were involved in a car crash every 52 minutes, and, overall, there was a motor vehicle accident on Utah roads every 10 minutes.
Driving under the influence of legal drugs is a crime, but statistics don’t show how often or how many people are arrested for that because DUI statistics are not broken down by whether the offense was caused by drugs or alcohol, Fairclough said.
The penalty for DUI under either cause includes jail time and thousands of dollars in fees and fines.
Drugs known to impact driving include sleep medications, some antidepressants, decongestants, cough medicines, antihistamines, narcotic painkillers and tranquilizers.
However, Fairclough said, even seemingly harmless over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies can pose a potential danger and increase a crash risk by up to 41 percent.
Symptoms of drug influence include dizziness, drowsiness and changes in mood and behavior, such as nervousness, nausea and headache.
Diphenhydramine, commonly found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, can have the same effect on driving as a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
Even though these medications come with warnings, many people ignore them because they’ve never had a problem.
“It’s better to be safe,” Fairclough said.
“If you go online and type in everything you’re taking, and something pops up that tells you the medication causes drowsiness, ask you doctor if you can take it at night when you’re not going to be driving.
“Driving is an incredibly important part of a person’s life and gives them the freedom to get out and have a sense of independence.
“Everyone should be able to drive as long as they safely can, and we try to help seniors to do just that.”