Study: Prescription drugs increase risk of road collisions

May 19, 2021

According to the results of a new research study published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, some types of prescription medications are associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle collisions.

The study aimed to investigate the risk of collision responsibility associated with common classes of prescription medications and examined health records in British Columbia from 1997 to 2016, which included all drivers involved in an incident collision that resulted in a police report.

Specifically, the results of the study revealed an increased risk of collision responsibility in drivers prescribed sedating antipsychotics, long-acting benzodiazepines, short-acting benzodiazepines and high-potency opioids.

Furthermore, higher risk of collisions was seen in drivers prescribed neurological medications, including cholinergic drugs, anticholinergic agents for Parkinson’s disease, dopaminergic agents, and anticonvulsants.

The study also found that people currently taking benzodiazepines, non-sedating antidepressants, high-potency opioids, and anticonvulsants had increased risk of motor vehicle collisions compared to past users of these medications.

The results of this research demonstrate that drivers prescribed some classes of medications, including benzodiazepines or high-potency opioids are at increased risk of psychomotor impairment and being responsible for collisions. Moreover, this risk does not decrease over time. Several other classes of medications are associated with increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, but this association might be independent of medication effect.

What’s more, this increased risk was not reduced with time, despite people developing tolerance to the impairing effects of opioids, benzodiazepines, and other sedating medications.

These findings are also consistent with the results of previous studies, which show that an increased risk of road collisions is significantly associated with several classes of prescription drugs, including opiates and benzodiazepines.

According to the study authors, the public health effect of medication-impaired driving could be substantial since prescription drug use is common. In addition, the authors have suggested that these findings can guide medication warnings and prescription choices and inform public education campaigns targeting impaired driving.

Importantly, these results demonstrate that similarly to illicit drugs, prescription drugs are significantly associated with road accidents, highlighting the importance of drug testing in the workplace for safety-sensitive positions.