Driving Under the Influence - Prescription Drugs the Drowsy Factor

Driving Under the Influence - Prescription Drugs the Drowsy Factor


I Wilson-Haran, A R Woodside, B Gunay, University of Ulster, UK



Prescription medications, and many over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids and cold remedies use antihistamines, which induce drowsiness. These preparations have properties to aid pain and work as decongestants, however, the medications identified also have side effects which can be detrimental to performance e.g. drowsiness. Many of the prescription medications will stipulate on the label if they contain any drugs that cause drowsiness. The medication will also instruct users if the content effects driving or operation of machinery. Your General Practitioner (GP) will highlight any side effects and indicate clearly how these will have effect, such as, drowsy feeling, nausea, dizziness, fatigue ? all of which will decrease alertness. These warnings (identified by the British National Formulary BNF Edition 46 September 2004 as 2, 3 and 19) must be adhered to and received with seriousness.

Smith highlights that something as simple and common as ?flu? or a cold can and will induce sleepiness or fatigue, therefore deteriorating driving and perishing overall performance. It is true that a majority of people would never contemplate driving under the influence of alcohol, however driving when drowsy seems to be no big deal. In the past decades medicines have been a major force in the fight against disease and most of us have consumed some form of medicine to treat an illness. The range of medicines at our disposal has never been greater than today. Many people are prescribed medicines as a result of a visit to or duration in hospital and information can be easily forgotten. Information on the effects of medications is of utmost importance especially if drowsiness is a side effect and ultimately increases your risk of being involved in a sleep-related accident/collision.

After intense research and literature reviewing, questionnaires were designed and conducted over a 6-week period. The questionnaires were conducted in a pharmaceutical setting. Candidates were selected according to their prescribed medication ? any drug with BNF warning label 2, 3 and 19 indicating ?drowsiness? as a side effect and subsequently these people were approached and asked to partake in the study. As an indicator of daytime sleepiness the Epworth Sleepiness Scale was used to derive levels of excessive sleepiness.

This paper proves that drivers are put at risk of accident involvement as a result of their consumption of prescription medications. Results confirmed that these drivers are a high-risk group as sleepiness can capture them at the most inappropriate times. Pilot study shows that 1 in 3 drivers have concern for excessive daytime sleepiness and 1 in 4 are not receiving their recommended nighttime sleep. These have serious repercussions especially when the persons commits to the driving task.

This paper concludes drivers who are consuming prescription drugs with BNF warning labels 2, 3 and 19 are put to especially dangerous risks whilst driving; risks that could ultimately kill them or other road users. These risks could be lessened or alleviated by further educational programmes, to help support drivers who are at danger and to educate all to the risks of drowsiness and how this effects ability to drive. Awareness is especially important as it allows all drivers to act promptly and without pressure.


Association for European Transport