While researching how prescription drugs might affect my balance and fall risk, I realized that these same prescription medications might impact my driving. Like most senior drivers age 65 and older, I take several medications regularly. However, it never even crossed my mind that these drugs might affect my safe driving abilities. It also never occurred to me to consider discussing this my healthcare providers. Even worse… none of them ever brought it up to me!
How do you know if medications will affect your driving?
Although we senior drivers are less likely to drink and drive, our prescription medications might be as risky as having a few drinks before driving. Research shows that seniors are more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident and that they heal slower than people in their 20s.
I came across a great website named RoadwiseRX. RoadwiseRx is a free tool (developed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety) that provides customized feedback on how the side effects of medications (prescription, over-the counter and supplements) can impair safe driving. It also describes how these medications interact with one another and also with food.
To use RoadwiseRX, you just type in the names of the medication(s) you take and the website will automatically list the side effects. The side effects are then grouped into three main driving risk categories: Trouble Staying Alert or Awake, Difficulty Concentrating on the Road, and Difficulty Maintaining Control of the Vehicle. More specific driving challenges are listed under each of these categories. For example, if the website indicates that your medication may cause you to have Trouble Staying Alert or Awake, then RoadwiseRX alerts to what this may mean, such as:
“Challenges staying within the lane markings and increased risk of leaving the roadway. When drivers are unable to remain in their lane, it increases their likelihood of hitting another vehicle, traveling into oncoming traffic, or driving off the side of the road.”
Users can print the information from RoadwiseRX and take it to their doctor or pharmacist to discuss the risks and review if the risks might be reduced by adjusting medications.
Information for Senior Drivers
Another resource available is a special website by AAA for senior drivers to help them drive safer and longer. The AAA Senior Driving website provides other helpful information for senior drivers (including an online driving course) to promote safe driving.
Finally, there are even Occupational Therapists who can help seniors adapt their vehicles to functional limitations they might have! There is an educational program called CarFit developed by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Society on Aging. Carfit provides a quick 12-point check on how well a senior driver and his/her vehicle fits together. Some of the key points include body position to gas pedal and brake, steering wheel tilt, and head restraint positioning. CarFit is community-based so it is not available everywhere, so be sure to visit their website for additional information.
Similar to fall prevention, there is a lot of help available to maximize safe driving. Your most important part is to recognize the problem and take action to find and use resources to help you.
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