Older motorists under influence of drugs — (The Age)

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The Age

Australian motorists, especially those over 55, are putting lives at risk by driving while drowsy, dizzy and clumsy on prescription medication, new research shows.

They are twice as likely to be driving on legal drugs as on illegal ones, despite warnings on packaging.

More than one in 10 Australians (11 per cent) admit driving after using marijuana, cocaine, speed or ecstasy, research commissioned by insurance company AAMI shows.

However, almost twice as many (21 per cent) admit to driving after taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines – even if the label warns them not to.

Australians over the age of 55 are the worst offenders, with more than a quarter (27 per cent) admitting to taking legal drugs before getting behind the wheel.

Medication considered dangerous when driving includes the common brands Valium, Xanax, Prozac, Codeine, Vicodin and Voltaren.

Possible side effects of these drugs can be drowsiness, dizziness, clumsiness, confusion, abnormal vision, ear ringing, lack of concentration, light-headedness or muscle twitches.

In some cases they can even cause unconsciousness, fainting spells or seizures.

The research breaks down common misconceptions about what driving under the influence is, AAMI spokesman Geoff Hughes says.

“This behaviour is potentially life-threatening for themselves and other road users,” Mr Hughes said in a statement.

“Drivers who are using prescription or over-the-counter drugs should check the labels for any warnings against driving before even thinking about using their cars.”

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia spokesman Aaron Hall said motorists should be aware of the potential effects of new medications or combining medications before they get behind the wheel.

“Most medicines will not have an effect on driving skills or ability, but some may,” Mr Hall said.

“It could be a single medicine having an effect, or a combination of medicines adding together to produce an effect.

“If you are unsure whether a medicine could affect your driving skills or perception, you should discuss it with your pharmacist or doctor.”