You might never put yourself in the same category as a marijuana or a cocaine user, but if you take certain prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs and get behind the wheel of an automobile, you’re driving under the influence. You can be ticketed, jailed, or cause an accident – any of which can affect your premiums next time you’re looking for car insurance quotes or renewing your policy.
A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 18% of the 21,798 U.S. drivers killed in car accidents in 2009 tested positive for some sort of drug in post-mortem examinations. Along with illegal substances, those drugs often included prescription and over-the-counter meds. Another study done by Canada’s McGill University speculated that prescription drug use might be the reason older drivers have a relatively high rate of car accidents.
Reaction to drugs and their affect on your driving can depend on your age, weight, interaction with other drugs including alcohol and whether or not you’ve eaten recently. Even a drug you’ve taken without incident in the past can unpredictably impair your ability to drive. A University of Minnesota study found that some antihistamines actually impair a driver’s abilities to a greater extent than alcohol! Worse, unlike alcohol, some drugs stay in the body for days or weeks.
The affects of prescription and OTC medications can be subtle or gross. Reactions range from drowsiness to delayed reflexes, slowed reaction time, dizziness, hallucinations, confusion, blurred vision, loss of muscle coordination and seizures. They’re all bad news if they happen while you’re driving. Several states now define “drugged driving” as the inability to drive safely due to driver impairment from a controlled substance. If stopped and suspected of being drugged, after a field sobriety test, you may be subjected to a urine or blood test based on the officer’s discretion. The fact that you caused an accident or property damage because it was a prescription drug won’t matter to the police or your car insurance company; it will go on your driving record and can result in higher rates.
The medications attributed with the highest rate of accidents, according to the U of Minnesota study, tend to be those that are the longest lasting and stay in the bloodstream for more than 24 hours. But shorter-term drugs can also impair driving skills. Among the prime offenders are such popular prescription drugs as Vicodin, Demerol, Halcion, Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Soma. OTC preparations for allergies, colds and coughs can also cause problems, as can certain diet pills and appetite suppressants. Always read the labels of any prescription or OTC medication and never drive under the influence of any drug.