When most people think of impaired driving, they most likely think of drunk driving or possibly driving while under the influence of illegal drugs. But driving under the influence doesn’t just apply to illegal drugs. It applies equally to prescription drugs that can affect your judgment.
Lots of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, have warning labels that advise you not to drive or operate heavy machinery while under their influence. And those warnings are there for a good reason.
Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, anti-psychotics, tranquilizers, and sleep aids can all dramatically impair your ability to drive safely. As a result, this leads to an increased probability of accidents.
In this article, we’ll talk about the prevalence of drugged driving, the effects it can have, and the consequences that could be in store if you get behind the wheel while impaired.
I’m writing this article because I’m committed to helping people to manage their emotional challenges in healthy and accountable ways.
With this in mind, I put together this article about how psychiatric drugs can affect your driving skills and safety.
Psychiatric medicines are, overall, a positive thing. They’re meant to help individuals manage their mental health. But not all psychiatric meds are created equal. Some can cause serious impairments to your driving ability. Some specific examples include:
Hard numbers on drugged driving can be a little tricky. Because in many instances, those drugs are mixed with alcohol. This is a dangerous combination. But research from the National Institute of Health has shown that driving while impaired by drugs can double your chances of having a crash.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is more prevalent than it should be. According to numbers from the Governors Highway Safety Association, over 43% of traffic fatalities in 2016 tested positive for drugs. A study of college students found that 1 in 6 had driven while under the influence of drugs at least once — usually marijuana, but sometimes cocaine or pain medication.
By now, it’s firmly established that driving under the influence of psychiatric meds can impair your driving and increase the chance of accidents.
But let’s dig a little further into what that actually means.
First and foremost, those accidents can incur not only lasting physical, mental, and emotional damage, but they are also likely to incur massive medical bills and possibly lawsuits.
This is particularly true if the accident caused fatalities or injuries to innocent bystanders or passengers — a realistic possibility for people driving under the influence.
Driving while drugged can also result in jail time and hefty fines. When law enforcement pulls over a person whose driving they judge to be erratic, they will administer a field sobriety test, including chemical tests. If the driver is found to be over the limit, a DUI conviction could follow — which could mean not just fines, but probation, suspension or revocation of your license, and even imprisonment for repeat offenders. Getting a DUI on your record can be a life-ruining experience.
Not only that, but you can also expect to see your car insurance premiums skyrocket. While every state is different in terms of how they handle DUI convictions, almost all of them will result in a major hike to your insurance rates.
Take, for example, New Jersey, which is notoriously tough on DUI convicts. Ross Martin at insurance comparison site The Zebra points out that a DUI in New Jersey will send your insurance premiums up a staggering 94% — from $1928 yearly (already above the national average) to $3972. That can make it extremely tricky to afford coverage, assuming you can find any to begin with — many insurance carriers will refuse or drop customers with a DUI on their record.
Now that we know how dangerous psychiatric drugs can be when behind the wheel, let’s talk about what you can do to prevent it.
First, healthcare professionals should keep you informed about which medications are admissible when it comes to driving. And which aren’t. If your healthcare provider isn’t giving you this information voluntarily, then ask.
Second, if you do know which medications are dangerous to use behind the wheel, then heed those warnings! Instead of getting in your car to drive, consider waiting for the effects of the medication to wear off. Or if possible, arrange for alternative transportation.
For example, carpooling, public transport, ride-sharing etc. Or explore some other service where you don’t have to be behind the wheel.
While prescription psychiatric drugs are vital to managing mental health, they should always be used carefully. You must pay proper attention to their effects.
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