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Medications and Elderly Drivers

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susan_harr6 years ago

Every age group has their driving challenges. While novice drivers lack experience and may be easily distracted on the road, older drivers may have issues with vision, hearing, and reaction time which may make it more difficult for them to drive the way they used to. But one big difference between younger and older drivers is that elderly drivers often take a number of prescription medications on a daily basis.

“Unlike younger drivers, the typical older driver is a medication-taker. There now is a substantial body of evidence that commonly used medications can interfere with driving safety,” Medications and the Older Driver.

Medications and Elderly Driver Studies

There are about 38 million licensed drivers over age 65 in the U.S. By 2024, one in four U.S. drivers will be over age 65, according to the National Older Driver Research and Training Center. Many of these drivers will be taking one or more prescription medications before hitting the road. According to the Consortium of New York Geriatric Education Centers, patients over 65 make up 12% of the population, yet they consume 31% of prescribed drugs.

A number of studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of medications on elderly drivers. In “Medications and the Older Driver,” published by the Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, researchers found that Cyclic antidepressants (certain types of depression medications) and benzodiazepines (muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications) adversely affect the safety of the older driver.

Another study, conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, identified a number of elderly persons taking medications and determined whether or not they knew about the dangers of taking these medications while driving. The researchers interviewed 630 drivers aged 56 to 93 and found that:

  • 95% of those age 55 and older had one or more medical conditions.
  • 78% of respondents used one or more medications.
  • 28% had an awareness of the risks those medications might have on driving ability.
  • 18% percent of those surveyed said they had received warning about potentially driver impairing medications, such as ACE inhibitors, sedatives and beta blockers.
  • The study also found as people aged, awareness decreased, despite the fact that the number of prescription medicines increased.

Tips for Older Drivers Taking Medications

Information below provided by the

  • Take all medications according to the instructions.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of prescribed medications on driving. 
  • Make sure the combination of your medications does not impair your driving skills. If you have more than one doctor, make sure all of them know everything you are taking.
  • Never mix medications, share them with another person, or take them in combination with alcohol.
  • If the label says “Do not use while operating heavy machinery” let someone else drive. With some medications, you may not be able to drive at all. If in doubt, choose not to drive.
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