Study: Medications and prescription combinations increase vehicle crash risk by 300 percent |

Study: Medications and prescription combinations increase vehicle crash risk by 300 percent

Free online tool

AAA’s free online Roadwise RX tool can help drivers and their families understand common side effects of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. It also flags interactions between these medications that can impact safety behind the wheel and gives users a free report they can take to their doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks. Learn more at and

DENVER — If you take multiple medications on any given day, you’re certainly not alone: Nearly 50 percent of older adults report using seven or more medications while remaining active drivers, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The only problem? Nearly 20 percent of older drivers use medications that can increase their crash risk by up to 300 percent.

A record 42 million adults ages 65 and older are driving on America’s roads — a number expected to increase substantially over the next decade, making them the largest driving population. Per AAA research, 20 percent of them regularly take medicines, such as benzodiazepines and first-generation antihistamines that are known to carry impairing effects such as blurred vision, confusion, fatigue or incoordination, which pose serious crash risks behind the wheel.

“We know two things for certain: There is a growing number of older drivers, and more and more of them use multiple medications without realizing the impact their prescriptions can have on their driving,” said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. “Our research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use a medication that can get them into a crash.”

The AAA Foundation partnered with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego to evaluate medication reports from nearly 3,000 older drivers participating in the AAA LongROAD study. Researchers found that the most commonly reported medications used by older drivers affect driving ability and increase crash risk. These medications include:

• Cardiovascular prescriptions: Treating heart and blood vessel conditions (73 percent).

Support Local Journalism

• Central nervous system prescriptions: Treating parts of the nervous system, such as the brain, and including pain medications (non-narcotics and narcotics), stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs (70 percent).

Checking interactions

Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that fewer than 18 percent of older drivers report ever receive a warning from their health care provider about how their prescriptions impact their safety on the road. Additional data from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists shows that 34 percent of older adults are prescribed medications by more than one doctor, possibly bypassing opportunities to determine how new prescriptions interact with other medications.

“The big risk here is how these medications mix,” McKinley said. “While one drug on its own might not affect your ability to drive, in combination with another it could have serious consequences. Ask your doctor and pharmacist as many questions as necessary to understand why you need the medications prescribed to you and how they can affect your driving.”

Older adults and their families need to be vigilant in understanding the types of medications prescribed to them and have a strong grasp on any potential impairing side effects before getting behind the wheel. Drivers should:

• Come prepared: Write down any vitamins, supplements and prescribed or over-the-counter medications you take, and bring that list with you to every medical appointment.

• Ask questions: Share that medication list with your health care providers at each appointment, and ask about potential side effects or interactions that could affect your driving.

• Discuss alternatives: Risks can often be reduced by taking alternative medications, changing the doses or changing the timing of the doses to avoid conflicts with safe driving.

“Don’t be afraid to question health-care providers,” McKinley said. “It’s their job to help you. And the answers may just save your life.”

Support Local Journalism