AAA Study: Taking Multiple Medications Can Increase Crash Risk for Older Drivers

Fewer than 18 percent of older drivers report receiving a warning from their health care provider about how their prescriptions impact their safety on the road

11/28/18
Traffic Safety

Nearly 50 percent of older adults report using seven or more medications while remaining active drivers, but don’t know some of the prescriptions they are taking may increase the risk of a collision due to impairing side effects.

According to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 20 percent of older drivers are using medications that the American Geriatrics Society says should be avoided because they have very limited therapeutic benefits, pose excess harm, or both and are referred to as potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs).

Most of these potentially inappropriate medications, such as benzodiazepines and first-generation antihistamines, are known to cause impairing effects such as blurred vision, confusion, fatigue or incoordination, and can increase a driver’s risk for a crash by up to 300 percent.

“Many older drivers are using medications that they don’t know should be avoided while operating a vehicle,” said Michelle Donati, spokesperson for AAA Arizona. “While taking medications can affect all of us, older drivers are more vulnerable and it is important for them to know the side effects associated with the medications they are taking.”

Currently, a record 42 million adults ages 65 and older are driving on America’s roads and this number is expected to increase substantially over the next decade, which would make them the largest driving population.
 
“There is a growing population of older drivers who use multiple medications and likely do not realize the impact these prescriptions may have on their driving,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “This new research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use an inappropriate medication that can potentially cause driving impairment.”

The AAA Foundation along with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego evaluated 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)
     
  • Central nervous system agents (CNS) prescriptions: Treating parts of the nervous system, such as the brain, and includes pain medications (non-narcotics and narcotics), stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs (70 percent)

Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that fewer than 18 percent of older drivers report receiving 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 check how the new prescription may interact with other medications being used.
                               
AAA urges older adults and their families 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, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications you take, and bring that list with you to every medical appointment.
  • Ask questions: Share your medications list with your healthcare 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 the timing of the doses to avoid conflicts with safe driving.

“Drivers should ask their doctor or pharmacist how their prescriptions can affect their driving abilities especially if they are taking multiple medications which can increase their risk for a collision,” Donati said.

To learn more about their medications, drivers can use AAA’s Roadwise Rx. The free, online tool helps 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. Print the free list and report, then discuss the confidential results with your doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks. 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.

About LongROAD: 
Recognizing that lifestyle changes, along with innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the baby boomer generation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has launched a ground-breaking, multi-year research program to more fully understand the driving patterns and trends of older drivers in the United States. The AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study is one of the largest and most comprehensive senior driver databases available on senior drivers incorporating 2,990 participants being followed for five years. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.

About AAA Arizona:
AAA has a proud history of serving Members for over 100 years. AAA is on a mission to create Members for life by unleashing the innovative spirit of 4,000 employees representing nearly 6 million Members across Northern California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. In addition to legendary roadside assistance, AAA offers home, auto and life insurance, and extraordinary travel services. According to Via Magazine's Smart Guide, being a AAA Member can save you more than $1,200 a year. Learn more at AAA.com.