New research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that nearly half of drivers surveyed said they used one or more potentially impairing medications in the past 30 days.

The study also found many who took medications to combat depression, pain, or sleep issues were not warned by their healthcare provider regarding the possible dangerous impact on driving.

The AAA is now recommending that the advice given by medical and pharmacy professionals about the dangers of mixing over-the-counter and prescribed medications with driving is vastly improved and more consistently emphasized to maximize safety.

“Our research finds that many drivers are taking one or more potentially impairing medications before getting behind the wheel,” said Dr David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“It is important for medical professionals to offer clear consultation to their patients of the possible risks and ensure they understand them.”

The study focused on the prevalence of recent use by drivers of commonly used prescriptions and over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, cough medicines, antidepressants, prescription pain medicines, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, and amphetamines. These are PDI medications, but not all drivers who reported taking them were impaired. As the term implies, PDI medications can potentially impair driving, but effects in individuals may vary.

Research results found that up to half of drivers who were prescribed and took each type of PDI medication did not report receiving a warning from their medical provider or pharmacist regarding its possible impacts on driving. But those who did receive a warning were 18 per cent less likely to get behind the wheel after use, highlighting the potential benefit of healthcare providers’ counseling to reduce medication-impaired driving.