Many people do not think twice about jumping behind the wheel of a car after taking their regular prescription medications. However, some prescription medications can have more of an impact on people than they think.
Confusion and disorientation can create severe problems behind the wheel.
Lightheadedness could cause someone to lose track of the road.
Suddenly, you have suffered injuries in a serious accident due to someone else’s decision to drive under the influence of prescription medications. What rights do you have, and what steps should you take next?
The Challenges of Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs
Most people assume that prescription drugs will prove safe enough when they get behind the wheel. They took them as prescribed by a doctor. They have taken those drugs before. However, those drugs might not prove as safe as anticipated. Prescription drugs can cause several side effects that may interfere with the driver’s ability to navigate safely behind the wheel.
Many people accept that common medications, including cold medicine, can make them feel a little drowsy. Unfortunately, that knowledge may not make them think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car.
Drowsy driving, however, can have substantial unintended consequences. A drowsy driver may have a much higher risk of causing an accident due to inattention. In some cases, drivers can even drift off behind the wheel and engage in short periods of sleep that leave the car out of control or even fall asleep entirely.
Frequently, prescription drugs can cause visual changes for users. Vision may blur or tunnel, making it difficult for drivers to keep track of everything happening out on the road. Driving with blurred vision can make it very difficult to navigate safely. Even a driver who feels that they can concentrate well enough to get past the blur may discover that they cannot pay adequate attention to their blind spots or merge safely, both of which can pose a substantial danger on the road.
Vertigo, Dizziness, or Fainting
Feeling faint can make it very difficult to concentrate on the road. Unfortunately, many prescription and nonprescription medications can cause that faint feeling, or make drivers feel dizzy. As a result, they may have a very hard time keeping the vehicle safely on the road. Sudden waves of dizziness can often come on unpredictably, making it very unsafe for people using a medication that could cause those side effects to continue driving.
Lack of Focus
Frequently, medications have a side effect people do not prepare for— lack of focus. That loss of focus can impact work or make it difficult for the individual taking those medications to get work done at home. However, the individual may not realize that lack of focus can also prove extremely dangerous while driving.
Driving requires careful attention to many details, from the position of the vehicle on the road to the actions other drivers take. Loss of focus could cause the driver to become highly distracted by things in the vehicle or even start daydreaming or thinking about something else so intently that it leads to an accident. Distracted driving can prove incredibly dangerous, especially in heavy traffic or conditions that may already have raised the risk of an accident.
Slowed Movements and Reaction Times
Behind the wheel, reaction time can be critical. If a problem crops up, the driver needs to respond quickly and effectively, whether that means braking quickly to avoid a rear-end collision or steering away from a trouble spot. Slowed movements can make it very difficult for a driver to keep up with the normal tasks required to keep the car on the road, let alone respond to potential emergencies. Some drivers may recognize that they suffer from slowed movement and take steps to compensate where possible, while others may not recognize that they have changed their usual speed, making them even more dangerous. If the driver attempted to compensate, that slowed movement can still endanger others.
Does a Driver Under the Influence of Prescription Medication Bear Liability for an Accident?
People take prescription medications and drive every day. Some medications have a higher risk of causing dangerous side effects than others, including anxiety medications, pain relievers, antipsychotic drugs, any product that contains codeine, and cold remedies, and allergy medications. Sleeping medications can also cause side effects long after the user takes them.
Even diet pills and stimulant drugs can cause unanticipated side effects for people out on the road.
If a driver under the influence of those medications gets involved in an accident, do they bear liability?
If you have had an accident with a driver under the influence of prescription medication, you might not even realize that the driver has taken medication. However, a lawyer’s investigation might help uncover more information that may make it easier for you to establish liability for the accident. If you suspect the other driver involved in your accident of taking prescription medications that could have contributed to the accident, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.
A lawyer will ask several questions to help determine whether the other driver’s prescription medication use may have contributed to the accident, or even leave the driver bearing full liability for the incident
Did the driver perform some action, or fail to perform some action, that led to the accident?
What actually caused your accident? If the other driver rear-ended you, swerved out of their assigned lane of traffic, or ignored traffic signals, it does not matter what caused that action. The driver will bear liability for the accident due to apparent negligence behind the wheel.
Did the driver perform, or fail to perform, some action that contributed to the accident or made it more severe?
The driver slammed on the gas pedal instead of the brakes. The driver did not respond to another vehicle stopping abruptly, or to a pedestrian stepping out into traffic, as fast as a reasonable person not under the influence of medications could have managed. The driver became critically distracted behind the wheel, making it impossible to respond appropriately to the situation.
In many cases, prescription medication use can contribute to an accident, even if it does not cause it. You may discover that the other driver could have reacted better, or would have had better reflexes, if not under the influence of that medication. This may mean that the driver bears partial liability for the accident even if some other cause initially started the chain of events that led to the accident.
What Should You Do If You Suspect the Driver of Prescription Medication Use?
Sometimes, you can clearly see that the other driver seems to have consumed something when you stop together at the scene of the accident. However, keep in mind that many other things, including traumatic brain injury, can mimic signs of drunkenness or drug use, including prescription drug use.
The steps you should take after the accident remain the same regardless of what you think the other driver may have consumed.
1. Report the accident.
Call the police, wait for them to arrive, and give an accurate report of what you observed leading up to the accident and during the accident. If the driver mentioned prescription drug use as a factor in the accident—and some drivers might inadvertently share that information with you—mention it to the police.
You should also mention unusual behavior that you think might indicate medication use since it could also indicate a medical problem. The responding officer can then decide whether to address those issues further.
2. Get medical care if you need it.
Any time you think you might have suffered injuries in an accident, or if you get into an accident that involves significant property damage, you should always go to the hospital or to an urgent care center to get checked out. A doctor offers your best chance to identify any injuries and make sure you treat them promptly.
Going to a medical care provider also offers another advantage: it serves as evidence of when your injuries took place, which can make it easier for you to file a personal injury claim against the driver that caused the accident.
3. Call a lawyer.
A car accident lawyer can help you determine what steps you need to take next and how to protect yourself financially following severe injuries. Let your lawyer know about your suspicions or any other statements the other driver might have made to make you think they had consumed prescription medications and that the prescription medication might have interfered with their driving.
For example, the driver might have made statements like, “I’m so sorry! This new medication has me so scattered!” or, “Ugh. I’ve been sick for days, and now this?”
Sound familiar? If so, you should mention those statements to your lawyer, who can then decide more about your next steps or start investigating the driver’s medication use.
How Can I Protect Myself When Taking Prescription Medications?
Taking prescription medication can feel dicey, especially if you do not yet know how that medication will impact you. You do not want to cause an accident because of the side effects of those medications, so how can you protect yourself?
1. Ask your doctor about side effects ahead of time.
Make sure you fully understand the side effects that are usually associated with a medication before you start taking it. If those side effects include something that could impact your driving, prepare for it. Follow up with the pharmacist so that if your doctor does not know all the potential side effects, you can still prepare.
2. Follow dosing instructions.
Take your medication according to the label. If you have questions about or problems with it, contact your doctor.
3. Take a few days to see how you feel after taking a new prescription.
If your doctor updates your dosage or prescribes a new medication, try to make arrangements to avoid driving for a few days afterward. If you notice that the medication has affected your attention span or focus or caused side effects like drowsiness or dizziness, talk to your doctor about those side effects and how to mitigate them.
Do not stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor.
4. If you stop taking a medication that causes those side effects, ask your doctor how long you need to wait before driving.
Ask your doctor about the potential duration of side effects, including what signs to look for before you get back behind the wheel. It may take just 24 hours to get that medication out of your system to make driving safe again, or it could take several days before you get back to normal.
5. Ask someone else to judge your capability, especially if you feel “off” or have questions.
Talk to a trusted individual, including a spouse, friend, or parent, and let that person know that you have started a new prescription medication and worry that you might experience side effects that could make it difficult to drive. You can ask that individual to let you know if you show any side effects that you have not noticed.
Keep in mind that you may not realize that your focus has disappeared or that you have started to drive erratically, especially if you have other things on your mind. A trusted friend can let you know if you start to display any side effects that could pose a danger on the road.
Prescription drug use can create several challenges when driving. If you get into an accident with a driver whose prescription medication use led to a serious accident, contact a lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your rights.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.