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Can Car Accidents Be Caused By Prescription Drugs?

November 12, 2020 by Steven M. Gursten

Can Car Accidents Be Caused By Prescription Drugs?

Car accidents can be caused by prescription drugs. Side effects of many medications can affect our ability to drive safely, increasing our risk of being involved in a crash. Common side effects of prescribed medication include drowsiness and blurred vision, impaired judgment, and slower perception and reaction times.

There are many car accidents caused by prescription drugs. Unfortunately, many drivers are unaware of just how dangerous the side effects of many prescribed medications can be. Even when people take their medications as prescribed, the side effects can cause people to remain drowsy for hours and even days afterward.

How can a car accident be caused by prescription drugs?

This can happen when the medication impairs a driver’s ability to drive safely. Common side effects can include drowsiness, blurred vision, diminished depth perception, impaired reaction time and impaired judgment. Gross motor skills and coordination and concentration can also become impaired. Any of these side effects cause a driver to be considered “under the influence” and unsafe behind the wheel.

Prescribed medication can impair a driver’s judgment and ability to drive safely in many of the same ways that alcohol can when a driver is drunk driving. A police officer can find a driver who is impaired to be intoxicated or operating a motor vehicle under the influence of prescribed medication when this happens. This determination can be made at the scene if the impaired driver has caused a motor vehicle crash or it can be later determined from blood labs and toxicology reports.

How often are car accidents caused by prescription drugs?

The Governors Highway Safety Association reports in its 2018 report (the most current available) that “10.7% of all fatally-injured drivers were known to have been opioid-positive” in 2016. The most frequent opioids included: (1) Oxycodone; (2) Hydrocodone; (3) Morphine; (4) Fentanyl; and (5) Methadone.

Here are the statistics for automobile crashes involving drug use in Michigan in 2019:

  • 1,388 total motor vehicle crashes where the driver was using drugs only
  • 116 fatal motor vehicle crashes where the driver was using drugs only
  • 658 injury motor vehicle crashes where the driver was using drugs only
  • 60 drugged driver fatalities
  • 582 drugged driver injuries

What prescription drugs can cause car accidents?

The prescription drugs that can cause car accidents include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Opioids
  • Cold and allergy medications
  • Sleep aids
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications
  • Anxiety medications
  • Drugs or medicines containing codeine
  • Tranquilizers (such as Valium)
  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Pain relievers (such as hydrocodone)
  • Diet pills
  • Stimulants (drugs or medications that contain caffeine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine)

Driver symptoms before an automobile crash caused by prescribed medication

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms after you have taken prescribed medication, then do not drive until these symptoms have completely resolved and gone away:

  • Sleepiness/drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed movement
  • Fainting
  • Inability to focus or pay attention
  • Nausea
  • Excitability
  • Lack of coordination

How to stay safe if you are taking prescribed medication?

You need to find out how your medication can and will affect your ability to drive safely before getting behind the wheel. Talk to your doctor and/or your pharmacist. Read the label for warnings about driving or operating machinery. Find out about possible reactions with other medications and/or alcohol that can compound the possible side effects of the medication you are taking.

What is being done about car accidents caused by prescription drugs?

As the number of car accidents caused by prescription drugs continues to increase and the role these medications becomes better understood, the FDA is becoming more involved. For example, the FDA has ordered the makers of sleeping medications containing zolpidem to lower their dosages based on research showing these prescribed medications stay in a person’s bloodstream long enough and at high enough levels to cause drowsiness the next morning.

After the FDA received reports of automobile crashes being linked to drivers’ use of commonly prescribed sleep medications containing zolpidem, the FDA conducted driving simulation studies that showed the drug levels remained high enough to cause drivers to have difficulty driving safely.

What if you are injured in automobile crash where the driver was on prescribed medication?

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by an at-fault driver’s use of prescription drugs, then you will be entitled to collect No-Fault benefits to pay for your medical bills and lost wages. You will also be able to sue for pain and suffering compensation and other economic damages.

This means that if the at-fault driver ingested these medications in a knowingly abusive manner, i.e., knowing that he or she would be a danger to others on the road, then the at-fault driver can be sued for the injuries and lives lost that he or she caused in much the same way that a drunk driver could be sued for a serious automobile crash that he or she caused.

In states that allow exemplary or punitive damages, the abuse of such drugs may allow for these additional counts.

Is it illegal to drive after taking prescribed medication?

Unlike many other states, Michigan does not have a zero-tolerance law that prohibits driving with “any amount” of prescribed medication in the driver’s system. However, it is against the law to drive while “intoxicated” or “under the influence of [an] intoxicating substance,” which can include prescribed medications. (MCL 257.625(1)(a) and (8))

Need help finding the right lawyer after a crash? Call Michigan Auto Law

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by prescription drugs and would like to speak with an experienced attorney, call toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our injury lawyers. You can also get help from an experienced accident attorney by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website.

(Sources: Governors Highway Safety Association, “Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States,” Published May 2018, Page 19; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, 2019, Statewide, “Alcohol/Drugs,” “Driver Drinking and/or Using Drugs and Injury Severity in Crash by Age”; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, 2019, Statewide, “Vehicle/Driver,” “Driver Injury Severity by Restraint, Alcohol, and Drug Use”)

Can Car Accidents Be Caused By Prescription Drugs?

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