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“Drowsy Driving” is causing a lot more car accidents than we think

October 17, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

Driving under the influence: FDA cites  link between sleeping pills and car crashes

I frequently write about driving under the influence. Most people think that means illegal drugs and alcohol. But many drugs legally prescribed by doctors can be  just as dangerous.  And just as addicting. One of the most dangerous is the ubiquitous sleeping pills that so many use, and the car accidents that people taking these pills are causing.

Perhaps a new term for driving under the influence should be coined: drowsy driving.

In a recent study, the FDA required makers of Ambien and similar sleeping pills to lower the dosage of their drugs, due to studies pointing to a higher risk of injury and car crashes from morning drowsiness, according to a story on CBSnews.com, FDA tells drugmakers to lower doses for Ambien, other sleeping pills.

Specifically, the FDA cited new research that shows that the drugs remain in the bloodstream at levels high enough to interfere with morning driving hours after use, which increases the risk of causing a car accident due to drowsiness and delayed cognition and reaction time.

The FDA has also received a number of reports of car accidents connected to the drug zolpiderm over the years, according to a statement by Dr. Ellis Unger, a director in FDA’s Office of Drug Evaluation.

As a car accident attorney of nearly two decades, this latest FDA report raises some interesting legal discovery issues.

In many of my truck accident cases, truck drivers driving under the influence of prescription drugs, including sleeping pills, have caused fatal crashes. But the use of these drugs was only discovered because the crash was a fatality, when mandatory drug testing was administered.

What about the vast majority of car accidents where people are injured, but not killed?  What about the car accidents where someone is killed, but where there is no law requiring drug testing, as there is for commercial truck drivers?  In just how many of these cases are drivers “driving drowsy” but the use/abuse of sleeping pills remains hidden and never to be discovered?

What is also interesting is that even when people take prescribed medication by prescription, they can remain drowsy and groggy for many hours and after ingesting the drug. Today, there are tens of thousands of people addicted to sleeping pills, and tens of thousands more who are taking other medications for anxiety that aid sleeping, like Xanax.  The effects of these legal drugs affect the driver and lower perception and reaction time behind the wheel in much the same way as  if the driver was driving fatigued.

Fatigued driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.  Many of my own cases involve truck accidents caused by  people driving beyond the federally mandated number of hours, called Hours of Service Rules.

Lawyers who litigate motor vehicle accident cases rarely subpoena the medical records of defendant drivers to investigate what legal prescription drugs they are taking. Perhaps after studies such as this one, many lawyers will begin to do so.

Note: Regulators have ordered drug manufacturers to cut the dose of the medications in half for women, as they break down the medication quicker. For men they only gave a similar recommendation.

The new doses apply to all insomnia treatments containing the drug zolpidem, which is sold under brands including Ambien, Edluar and Zolpimist.

Related information:

Tips to prevent drowsy driving car accidents

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