National Recognition

Prescription Drugs, Supplements and OTC Medications Pose Truck Accident Threat

Warning labels on all sorts of medications advise drivers to be cautious when under treatment. Even supplements -- such as “energy-shot” and high-caffeine drinks -- have warning labels. The side effects of energy drinks and even seemingly benign products like over-the-counter headache and allergy medicines can affect the way a person drives. Professionals who drive for a living, such as truckers, should make a priority of following all manufacturer’s warnings, as well as regulations for holders of commercial driver’s licenses.

Truck drivers should be particularly aware of how drugs and supplements affect their performance behind the wheel, not only because they spend so much time on the road, but also because their vehicles pose a greater danger than passenger vehicles. They take more time and greater distances to stop and can be harder to maneuver.

Facts and Figures about Risks Related to Truckers’ Medication Use

A study conducted in 2006 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) aimed to measure and analyze the causes of accidents involving large trucks. Driver fatigue is a cause of many accidents, one that many truckers may try to stave off by consuming high-caffeine beverages or energy shots. The FMCSA reports that some truck drivers resist efforts to reduce the number of fatigued drivers -- and they often violate the rules.

Among the other crash-related issues, the study also considered:

  • Driver working environment -- The FMCSA measured how factors such as pay method (pay per load, pay per mile) and schedule requirements could affect the likelihood of a crash. If a driver is pressed by either financial or logistical concerns, that driver could be tempted to take medication and supplements that keep him or her awake, but that could diminish the ability to react in an emergency.
  • Truck driver performance -- In this segment of the study, FMCSA researchers gauged the role of driver performance in accidents by measuring the truck’s speed, as well as the driver’s ability to notice and react to dangers. Many medications, whether over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription, cause drowsiness, anxiety, confusion and depression, among other problems. The list of side effects is extensive and varies based on the medicine.

The FMCSA reported that just over 16 percent of all truck drivers in the study failed an area of inspection. Hours-of-service (HOS) violations accounted for 2.2 percent of those violations. Fatigue was involved in 2.6 percent of all crashes, while alcohol abuse was a factor in 1 percent, and use of illegal drugs was a factor in 1.8 percent of truck crashes. “Stay awake” supplements and legal drugs can contribute to the 2.6 percent of accidents caused by drowsy drivers.The FMSCA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explored crash causation in a 2007 study as well. Researchers for both agencies coded the causes for big truck crashes into four categories:

  • Non-performance, including drivers who fell asleep, caused around 9,000 (12 percent) of the accidents reported in the study.
  • Recognition, which means the driver was inattentive and did not react to a situation, caused 22,000 (28 percent) of the accidents.
  • Decision, which means the driver chose to drive too fast, misjudged the speed of other vehicles or followed another vehicle too closely, caused 30,000 (38 percent) of the accidents.
  • Performance, for example panicking, overcompensating or exercising poor control, caused 7,000 (9 percent) of the accidents.

Use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs is an associated factor represented in these data. The researchers measured each factor’s relative risk and analyzed the data to differentiate between factors that were merely present during a crash and those that actually contributed to it.

Drugs that cause a person to wreck a vehicle can have various effects on the body. “Stay awake” drugs and highly caffeinated drinks can impair a driver’s ability to focus and can lead to “crashing,” or suddenly becoming sleepy or fatigued. OTC medications can have a range of side effects, such as drowsiness or excitability, which make it difficult to drive. The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of medicinal ingredients that can hamper the ability to drive safely.

Some of the active ingredients on the FDA’s list are easier to find than you might think. Codeine, which is found in some over-the-counter pain medications, can cause fainting, agitation, unusual thoughts or behavior, as well as seizures or confusion. Naproxen is found in painkillers such as Aleve and can cause allergic reactions, but it can also cause shortness of breath and problems with vision or balance. Many OTC drugs can react with each other.

Truck Drivers’ Over-the Counter and Prescription Drug Use and the Law

Taking prescription or OTC medications while driving a truck can contribute to -- or even cause -- an accident. Impairment by OTC or prescription drugs can also lead to a truck driver’s being held legally negligent in a truck accident lawsuit over personal injury, death or property damage. The federal government encourages professional truck drivers to make safety a priority by not driving while taking medications that could cause dangerous side effects.

A truck driver’s choice to use prescription or over-the-counter medications behind the wheel could put that driver’s life at risk, but it also jeopardizes the life and safety of everyone else on the road. Taking legal substances could have unforeseen consequences and could also be a violation of a truck driver’s license requirements and restrictions.

If you or someone you love was injured in a truck accident and you believe medication or supplements might have been a factor, the Texas truck accident attorneys at Roberts & Roberts Law Firm can help. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 903-597-6000 or by filling out an online contact form.

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