Governor's Traffic Safety Committee


Joe Morrissey
Casey McNulty


Office of Communications
6 Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12228

December 7, 2015

Older Drivers, Likely to Use Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications, Often Unaware of Impact of Medications on Driving Abilities

The New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) and New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today marked Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (Dec. 7-11, 2015) by reminding New Yorkers of the dangers of driving while impaired, particularly while under the influence of prescription medications. According to AAA, less than one-third of older drivers who use prescription drugs acknowledged awareness of the potential impact of the medications on driving performance.

"While each demographic of drivers faces unique challenges, we sometimes neglect to examine the dangerous effects that prescription and over-the-counter medications can have on an older driver's ability to drive safely," said Acting GTSC Chair and DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan. "During Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, we're emphasizing the importance of keeping older adults safe, not only for the drivers themselves, but for families with loved ones on the roads."

A National Center for Health Statistics report released in 2014 found that nine out of ten people 65 and older reported taking one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days; nearly 40 percent of those took five or more. Older adults, who can be more likely to use medication to treat chronic or temporary age-related ailments, are also at risk of unintentional impairment, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports: their systems may not break down the drug as quickly as younger people, and mental decline can lead to taking a prescription drug more or less often than they should or in the wrong amount.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can alter perception, cognition, attention, balance, coordination, reaction time, and other faculties required for safe driving. Adults taking prescription medications can check the Roadwise Rx website to find out whether any drug interactions could affect driving safety. Older adults should have a current and accurate list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications, in addition to supplements they are taking, and should review it regularly with their doctors and pharmacists to identify any possible negative interactions. Medications like tranquilizers, pain pills, sleep medications, antidepressants, decongestants, and antihistamines typically cause drowsiness and may be unsafe to use while driving.

Arlene González-Sánchez, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), said, "Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, if mixed together or with other substances like alcohol, can cause confusion, drowsiness, and other more serious consequences, especially when the person who takes them gets behind the wheel. This week and all throughout the year, families should stay vigilant about knowing what medications their older loved ones are taking and recommend not driving while on medication, if necessary, to keep their loved ones safe."

While older adults should always consult their doctors and pharmacists about whether the medications they are taking will affect their ability to drive safely, it is also important for adults to monitor themselves. The FDA recommends paying attention to how your body reacts to medicines and supplements, and keeping track of how adults feel after they use medicine (e.g., are they feeling tired? Is their vision blurry? Do they feel weak or slow?). Anyone who feels disoriented, tired, or even a little "off" should refrain from getting behind the wheel, and find another way to get where they are going.

GTSC and DMV recently partnered with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) to launch a website educating New Yorkers about how to keep older drivers safe. The site, Safe Driving Tips for Older New Yorkers, is funded through a federal grant, and encourages the use of online and in-person safety training, car safety check programs, and an online tool to educate older drivers on how interactions with certain prescription medications can affect driving safety.

Corinda Crossdale, Director of the NYS Office for the Aging said, "Safe driving is a function of a person's driving ability, not age. While most older drivers tend to be safe drivers, when they are involved in crashes, they are often hurt more seriously than younger drivers. That's why NYSOFA, in partnership with the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, has been providing outreach and education, as well as resources to older drivers and their families in order to ensure their safety and ability to drive for as long as possible."

NYSOFA offers help for families with concerns about older drivers. "When You Are Concerned," a helpful handbook available online, is a guide for families facing the dilemma of what to do when an aging loved one is at risk. New Yorkers can also call 1-800-342-9871 and ask to be connected to the Older Driver Family Assistance Program, or fine help in a nearby NYSOFA local office.

New Yorkers, including aging New Yorkers, at risk for addiction to prescription medications can find treatment options and information by calling the state's toll-free, 24-hour, seven-day-per-week addiction treatment referral HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369) or by texting HOPENY (467369). For information about the warning signs of addiction to prescription medication, visit the state's Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse website.


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