It’s been known that taking antianxiety medications called benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin) raise your odds of getting into a car accident while driving.
But a group of Taiwanese researchers wanted to find out whether other types of drugs that fall into this psychotropic category (including antidepressants, sleeping pills and antipsychotics) are risky for drivers, too.
And what they discovered may make many people hesitant to get behind the wheel.
I’ll tell you more about which brands were studied in just a minute.
If you are among the millions of people taking any of these drugs, then you’ll definitely want to know whether or not you’re at increased risk…
WHICH DRUGS WERE STUDIED?
Researchers looked at two groups of data on people age 18 or over. One group was made up of people who had a record of being in a car accident (as a driver, not a passenger) at some point over a recent 10-year span, and the other group comprised people of similar ages who had no record of being in a car accident (as a driver, not a passenger) over the same 10-year span. (The researchers couldn’t be sure that the accident was the driver’s fault—there was no way to tell, based on the data. And determining blame in accidents is sometimes subjective.) Then researchers analyzed who in the accident group had taken any of the following drugs within one month of the accident…
- Antidepressants SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors):
- “Z-drugs” or sleeping pills
Then researchers compared people of the same age and gender in both groups to see whether those who had taken any of the drugs mentioned above were more likely to have been in car accidents.
IMPAIRED DRIVING SKILLS
I contacted study author Hui-Ju Tsai, MPH, PhD, to learn more about the results. She and her colleagues found that only two categories of drugs—antipsychotic drugs and “other” antidepressants—were not associated with a higher risk of having a car accident while every other category was.
It is, of course, possible that the underlying medical conditions that caused people to take the drugs—depression, anxiety and insomnia—contributed to the car accidents. Future research will need to address that. But there is some evidence that the drugs themselves may have played a role.
Dr. Tsai noted that many psychotropic drugs impair cognitive and psychomotor abilities—and of course, cognitive and psychomotor abilities are crucial for driving. While on these drugs, you might feel more drowsy or more confused, and your reflexes might be slower. All of these things may negatively impact your judgment and coordination.
Dr. Tsai isn’t exactly sure why antipsychotic drugs and “other” antidepressants weren’t shown to be associated with car crashes. It could be due to the smaller number of subjects taking these drugs in the study…or it could be that people on these particular drugs drive less often…or it could be that these drugs impair cognitive and psychomotor abilities less than the other drugs mentioned above.
PROTECT YOURSELF ON THE ROAD
If you take any of the types of drugs listed above that were associated with having car accidents, here’s some advice from Dr. Tsai…
For those who take the medication in the morning, ask your doctor whether you can take it at night instead. The effects of many psychotropic drugs are strongest after you first take them, and since people tend to drive most in the daytime, this simple switch might help.
Ask your physician if you can take a lower dosage of the drug or possibly be weaned off the drug altogether. Perhaps you can use a natural treatment or make a lifestyle change instead.
If you have to stay on the drug and there is someone else who can drive you places (such as a spouse, sibling, child or friend), see if it’s possible to become a passenger for at least the time being.
People who must drive: Stay extra alert while you’re on the road, drive slowly and, of course, wear your seatbelt. And be sure not to drive if you are tired or upset.