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Mature Drivers Need to Consider Drug Side Effects

AAA study says most are unaware of dangerous combinations.

by on Aug.11, 2009

Courtesy of Peter Griffin

Awareness of possible harmful side effects drops as driver age and medication use rises.

A large majority of drivers over the age of 55 are taking one or more medications, yet most are unaware of the potential negative impact on driving performance that can be accompany their use, according to a study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Ninety five percent of respondents 55 and older have had one or more medical conditions treated with drugs and 78% use one or more medications, but only 28% said they were aware problems that might be encountered while driving.

The AAA Foundation commissioned the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct a survey of 630 adults age 55 and older in Alabama. The age range in the study was from 56 to 93 years old, and the level of awareness of potentially driver impairing medications decreased with age, as the number of prescription medications people were taking increased. Of those surveyed, 69% currently use one or more prescriptions that are potentially driver impairing, and 10% currently use five or more prescriptions that might be harmful to operating a motor vehicle.

Few respondents (18%) had received a warning about potentially driver impairing medications (for example ACE inhibitors, sedatives, and beta blockers) from a healthcare professional. Further, the study found that such warnings do not increase with increasing numbers of medications or with increasing numbers of medical conditions.

Safe Choice!

Safe Choice!

Previous research indicates that use of a single potentially driver impairing medication as well as use of multiple medications increases the risk of being in an accident.

“Health care professionals need to educate patients about their potentially driver impairing medications to help them make safe driving decisions” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “One of our goals is to help older drivers stay mobile as long as safely possible; so, it is imperative that we do a better job of educating drivers on known risks, such as the side-effects of medications.”

With the number of drivers 55 years of age and older expected to increase by more than half by 2030, this is a public health issue that will continue to become more dangerous unless awareness increases about medications that can impact safe driving. High-risk groups include those with multiple medical conditions and those taking multiple medications or potentially driver impairing medications, as well as those with less education.

This is only one of the many safety issues around older drivers, including road design.

“Seniors and their families need to be aware of health and wellness issues which can affect their ability to drive safely,” said Kathleen Marvaso, AAA Vice President of Public Affairs. “Using the tools and resources available at, you can identify and address these issues to help maintain lifelong safe mobility for you and those you love.”

H.R. 3355, the Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety and Roadway Enhancement Act of 2009, introduced at the end of July by Representative Jason Altmire (D-Penn.) has been endorsed by AARP.

If passed, the bill will invest $500 million annually in roadway safety infrastructure improvements to meet federal highway design standards for older drivers and pedestrians. Supporters say this will make roadways safer for all of us by changing roadway signs and road markings to accommodate the vision needs of an older population. Easier to see is easier to see for all.

“It is estimated that by 2025, one in four drivers will be 65 or older,” U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04) said. “Given this fact, we need to make sure we are taking older drivers’ needs into account in our transportation planning. By making improvements that will make roadway hazards more visible and signs easier to read, we can make our roads safer for drivers of all ages.”

A recent report from AARP’s Public Policy Institute found that two-thirds of transportation planners and engineers have yet to begin addressing the needs of older Americans in their street planning; yet by 2025, 64 million people will be over the age of 65 and by 2030 a quarter of all U.S. drivers will be over the age of 65.

Most older Americans live in suburbs with limited or no access to public transportation. That percentage will only grow as the Boomer generation reaches traditional retirement age. “As they get older, the first generation raised in the suburbs will still have to rely on their personal automobiles, or those of family and friends, to get around. Roads designed and built to reduce the risk of crashes will make them and everyone safer,” said David Certner, AARP’s Legislative Policy Director.

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