To most people, “impaired driving” means driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Given the recent headline-grabbing move toward decriminalization of marijuana in Canada, some people are also aware that impaired driving includes driving while under the influence of illicit drugs. Fewer people, however, realize that impaired driving includes getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after taking prescription or over-the-counter medication if that medication impairs the ability to drive safely. The car accident lawyers at Bronson Jones & Company LLP prepared this article to help BC drivers understand the implications of taking medication while driving.
Facts about medication use and driving • Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (including cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles, and off-road vehicles) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That includes illegal drugs and prescription or over-the-counter medication. Impaired driving is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada and the consequences are serious. • Many prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs can impair driving ability and increase the risk of a car accident. For example, commonly taken medications for cold, flu, allergies and nausea can cause drowsiness, reduced attention, and slowed reaction time. When mixed with alcohol, the combination can be deadly. Later in this article, our car accident lawyers discuss how medications can affect driving performance. • It has been estimated that at least 10% of all people killed or injured in crashes were taking psychotropic medication, which might have been a contributory factor to the crash. What are “psychotropic” medications? Psychotropic medications are drugs that are capable of affecting the mind, emotions, or behaviour. Medications that are commonly prescribed or used to treat medical conditions and that are known to have psychotropic effects or potential side effects that could impair functional ability to drive include: • Opioids (narcotics) such as fentanyl, codeine, and morphine; • Anti-depressants such as Prozac, Effexor, and Wellbutrin; • Antiepileptic medications used in the treatment of epilepsy and other disorders; • Antihistamines, which are commonly taken to alleviate the symptoms of allergic reactions (e.g., Benadryl, Reactine, and Claritin); • Antipsychotics, which are used primarily in the management of serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are used for pain relief, the reduction of fever, and to reduce inflammation (e.g., Aspirin, Voltaren, and Aleve); • Sedative and hypnotic drugs which are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, as muscle relaxants, and as anticonvulsants (e.g., Ativan, Xanax, and Valium); and • Stimulants used in the treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, such as Ritalin and Adderall. How do medications affect driving? The effects of medications on each individual are unique, and depend on the dosage, how recently they have been taken, and each person’s body chemistry. For instance, someone who has been taking a prescription medication for many months may have developed a tolerance compared to a person taking the medication for the first time. And of course, the effects of medication can be amplified when taken in combination with other drugs and/or with alcohol. Each type of medication comes with potential side effects that may impair driving ability. Opioids, for example, depress the function of the central nervous system. Possible effects on the ability to drive included blurred vision, poor night vision, slowed reaction times, sedation, and disorientation. The prescription drug benzodiazepine – also known as Xanax, Valium, or Ativan – can reduce hand-eye coordination (making it difficult for the driver to perform the physical functions of driving), impair attention, lengthen reaction time, and cause confusion and sedation. See here for a detailed list of medications that may impair the functional ability to drive. Tips to avoid driving issues caused by medication use • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects related to driving when using prescription medication. • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about drug interactions and the use of a particular medication with alcohol – the potential compounding effects may impair driving ability even more than either one alone. • Always read the information on the package of any prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine, including allergy and cold remedies. • Be cautious when you increase or decrease dosage of a medication, and avoid driving until you determine whether the change produces any side effects that could impair your ability to drive safely. • Remember that fatigue and stress will affect your ability to drive safely and can also compound the side effects of any medication. • If in doubt, don’t take the medication before driving, or avoid driving while taking the medication. Contact an experienced car accident lawyer if you have been injured The personal injury lawyers at Bronson Jones & Company LLP are highly experienced with impaired driving collisions and help victims of motor vehicle accidents achieve the compensation they deserve. If you have been injured by an impaired driver, call us at 1-855-852-5100 for a free initial consultation to help you determine whether you have a case and whether you want to hire us to resolve it. There is no obligation to hire us after this meeting. Legal Guidance & More, from Injury to Recovery Bronson Jones & Company LLP exclusively represents victims of motor vehicle accidents, and that’s all we do! Unlike other law firms which deal with everything from dog bites to divorce, Bronson Jones has built more than 30 years of trial experience and in negotiating fair settlements for clients injured in motor vehicle accidents. We’ve also developed an extensive network of medical and occupational specialists, therapists, rehabilitation specialists, and others to help you recover and deal with the impact of your injury on your physical health, family life, finances and future. Additionally, such reports may be essential in the development of your case. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, call any of the 13 Bronson Jones locations in the Lower Mainland for our expertise and advice. All of our cases are handled on a contingency (percentage) basis and you don’t pay until we collect.