Older drivers may be in greater danger than others

Natalia Blauth UnSplash+

'Under the influence' of medications? That’ll make it worse.

A new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that older drivers may have age-related and medical conditions that affect their driving performance. And there are medications they take that could make things worse.

Human error and its relationship to car crashes is not age-dependent. After all, more than 90% of car crashes are caused by human error by anyone of any age. But, older adults also have age-related concerns like decreased vision, cognitive decline, slower reaction times and even a harder time gripping the steering wheel. 

Add to that, a decrease in the ability to stay within a driving lane, the failure to observe speed limits as well as they should, and overlooking traffic signs. All told, JAMA researchers claim that the risk of a driver aged 75-79 dying in a car crash is 2.5 times higher than someone younger, and five times higher for those aged 80 years or older.

Other potential dangers

Acute and chronic medical conditions also come into play for older drivers, the researchers said. And that list is pretty long, too:

  • Seizures

  • Fainting

  • Low blood pressure

  • Low blood glucose, and 

  • Irregular heartbeat, which may cause dizziness or trouble breathing.

  • Dementia

  • Neurologic conditions that affect muscle strength and coordination such as Parkinson disease or a prior stroke, and

  • Untreated sleep apnea, which increases the risk of falling asleep while driving.

You should also count hearing issues as a potential risk, too. If someone can’t fully hear horns, sirens, or even noises on the street or inside their own car, that puts them in a whole other realm of danger. 

'Under the influence'

Naturally, driving drunk or stoned is a problem, but many people don’t count the medications that older adults may be taking that can also potentially affect driving, as well. Those include:

Sedatives and tranquilizers, which can cause drowsiness and delayed reaction times.

Pain relievers – including Opioids – can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired cognitive function.

Antihistamines are another medication that concerns medical experts. Often found in cold and allergy medications, they can cause drowsiness and make reaction times even slower.

Antidepressants, which could cause sedation and coordination problems.

Antihypertensives (blood pressure medicine) have been known to cause dizziness.

Stimulants such as Adderall, may increase alertness initially but they could also lead to driving more aggressively, dizziness, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, and blurred vision.

Medications for diabetes are also concerning because they can cause blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in confusion or unconsciousness.

Non-prescription medications. Sleep aids? Check. Cold meds? Check. Both can cause drowsiness and impair judgment.

“Before leaving the pharmacy, understand the warnings about the drugs you are taking,” the NHTSA warns. “If you are taking a prescription or over-the-counter medication that may impair your driving, you should not drive.”

Find a Walk-in Tub partner near you.