How big a risk do prescription drugs pose to road safety?

Date posted: 
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Each year in Canada, 125,000 motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) result in over 12,000 serious injuries, 2,400 fatalities, and an estimated societal cost of $63 billion (in 2004).

Driver factors such as speeding, distraction, and impaired driving play a major role in most fatal and injury crashes. Many drivers use medications that may slow their reaction time, cloud judgment and impair the psychomotor skills required for safe driving. This potential threat to road safety may be increasing due to an aging population and increased use of psychotropic (or impairing) medications.

Currently, despite international efforts, the risk to road safety associated with most medications is poorly understood. This knowledge gap hinders the development of effective policy, social marketing campaigns, and medication warning labels targeting people who drive while using impairing medications.

BC researchers hope to address this knowledge gap through a recently approved study to investigate the risk of motor vehicle crashes associated with prescription medications. The five-year project will be the first systematic study of all classes of medications suspected of causing MVCs, and will use the most complete set of prescription and road injury data yet analyzed.

“This is an area of interest to numerous road safety stakeholders including traffic administrators, police, healthcare providers, and the general public,” says project lead, Dr. Jeffrey Brubacher, of Vancouver General Hospital and Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia.

“We anticipate that our findings will inform the development of evidence-based policy and public education campaigns around prescription drug impaired driving. We also hope that our findings will be used to guide healthcare providers when warning patients of the risks associated with use of medications. Our overarching goal is to make BC’s roads safer.”

The project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

PopData will link data from the BC Ministry of Health, BC Vital Statistics Agency and provincial driver licensing and police reported data housed by ICBC for the project.

Page last revised: October 26, 2017