Identifying the ‘other’ drugged driver — senior citizens

Every month in Life, Cindy Antrican, public affairs manager for AAA Allied Group, Inc., provides traffic safety tips and information for motorists. Email:

When we hear the term “drugged driving” the image that comes to mind probably isn’t that of an older driver.

You may not think about the fact that prescription or over-the-counter medications can also impair driving. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety looked at the impact of medications on senior drivers. It revealed that 78 percent of people 55 or older take medications that could impair driving, but only 28 percent had any awareness that the drugs that help them could impair their driving. As we recognize Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (Dec. 5-9), AAA would like to remind mature drivers to be very cautious when considering whether to drive after taking medication, even over-the-counter medication.

Mature drivers are among the safest on the roadways. They refrain from most dangerous driving practices like speeding and aggressive driving plus they have one of the highest rates of seatbelt use. But there is a danger lurking for senior drivers that many are unaware of — operating a motor vehicle after using prescription medication. As 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, anxieties crest with first wave of “silver tsunami.” Seniors represent the fastest-growing segment of drivers, with current projections suggesting that a quarter of all drivers will be over 65 by 2025. Although seniors have an overall crash rate comparable to that of 20- and 30-year-old drivers, they are the most fragile drivers on the road, resulting in a higher death rate per mile driven than any other group.

Due to chronic medical conditions, older adults often must take multiple medications. Certain types of medications, like antidepressants, have been shown to increase crash risk by up to 41 percent. Ingredients like Diphenhydramine, commonly found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines, can have the same effect on driving as being above the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration

AAA is promoting Roadwise Rx to help seniors in the “silver tsunami” understand how medications may affect their ability to drive. Developed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Roadwise Rx is a free online tool that details common side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications. The tool generates personalized feedback on how medications, herbal supplements and foods, and their interactions with each other, can impact safety behind the wheel. Drivers are encouraged to discuss the confidential results with their doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks.

“A survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that women (58 percent) are more likely than men (46 percent) to seek counsel on the risks of driving while on medication, yet this is an issue that all older drivers and their families need to address. Roadwise Rx lets users move beyond the old-fashioned ‘brown bag’ review with an easy way to virtually pool together their pill bottles and talk to their doctor.”

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