Study: Medications Increase Crash Risk by 300 Percent

One in five older drivers use medications that should be avoided


DENVER (Dec. 4, 2018) – If you take multiple medications on any given day, you're certainly not alone: Nearly 50 percent of older adults report using seven or more medications while remaining active drivers, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The only problem? Nearly 20 percent of older drivers use medications that can increase their crash risk by up to 300 percent.

A record 42 million adults ages 65 and older are driving on America's roads – a number expected to increase substantially over the next decade, making them the largest driving population. Per AAA research, 20 percent of them regularly take medicines, such as benzodiazepines and first-generation antihistamines, that are known to carry impairing effects such as blurred vision, confusion, fatigue, or incoordination – which pose serious crash risks behind the wheel. 

"We know two things for certain: There is a growing number of older drivers, and more and more of them use multiple medications without realizing the impact their prescriptions can have on their driving," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "Our research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use a medication that can get them into a crash."

The AAA Foundation partnered with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego to evaluate medication reports from nearly 3,000 older drivers participating in the AAA LongROAD study. Researchers found that the most commonly reported medications used by older drivers affect driving ability and increase crash risk. These medications include:

  • Cardiovascular prescriptions: Treating heart and blood vessel conditions (73 percent).
  • Central nervous system (CNS) prescriptions: Treating parts of the nervous system, such as the brain, and includes pain medications (non-narcotics and narcotics), stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs (70 percent).

Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that fewer than 18 percent of older drivers report ever receiving a warning from their health care provider about how their prescriptions impact their safety on the road. Additional data from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists show that 34 percent of older adults are prescribed medications by more than one doctor, possibly bypassing opportunities to determine how new prescriptions interact with other medications. 

"The big risk here is how these medications mix," McKinley said. "While one drug on its own might not affect your ability to drive, in combination with another it could have serious consequences. Ask your doctor and pharmacist as many questions as necessary to understand why you need the medications prescribed to you, and how they can affect your driving."

Older adults and their families need to be vigilant in understanding the types of medications prescribed to them, and have a strong grasp on any potential impairing side effects before getting behind the wheel. Drivers should: 

  • Come prepared : Write down any vitamins, supplements, and prescribed or over-the-counter medications you take, and bring that list with you to every medical appointment. 
  • Ask questions: Share that medication list with your healthcare providers at each appointment, and ask about potential side effects or interactions that could affect your driving.
  • Discuss alternatives: Risks can often be reduced by taking alternative medications, changing the doses, or changing the timing of the doses to avoid conflicts with safe driving.

"Don't be afraid to question healthcare providers," McKinley said. "It's their job to help you. And the answers may just save your life."

Free Online Tool

AAA is proud to make its Roadwise RX tool available to all drivers at no cost. This online tool can help drivers and their families understand common side effects of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements. Importantly, it also flags interactions between these medications that can impact safety behind the wheel – and gives users a free report they can take to their doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks. Learn more at and

About LongROAD
Recognizing that lifestyle changes, along with innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the baby boomer generation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has launched a ground-breaking, multi-year research program to more fully understand the driving patterns and trends of older drivers in the United States. The AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study is one of the largest and most comprehensive senior driver databases available on senior drivers incorporating 2,990 participants being followed for five years. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit

About AAA Colorado

More than 685,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state's most-trusted advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services - as well as member-exclusive savings. For more information, visit