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FDA examines how sleep aids contribute to car accident rates

Getting a good night's sleep is important not only for your health and mental functioning, but also for your safety. As we have previously written, drowsy driving is a contributing factor in many car and truck accidents.

Millions of Americans struggle with sleep disorders. In fact, doctors in the United States wrote about 60 million prescriptions last year for drugs that help people get to sleep and stay asleep through the night. And although powerful sleep aids like Ambien are helping us rest, they may be putting some drivers at risk because they work too well. Studies have shown that some drivers who take sleeping medication at night are still so drowsy in the morning that they cannot safely drive.

Many prescription medications carry a boilerplate warning that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery while on the drug. This warning is so standard that it is often ignored, even by those taking sleep medications. For this and other reasons, the Food and Drug Administration is currently taking a closer look at how insomnia drugs may be contributing to car accidents and/or generally affecting road safety.

The government conducted a survey in 2007 revealing that almost 5 percent of drivers had detectable levels of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in their system during the daytime. It is unclear how many of these drivers were impaired by the drugs they were taking. Nonetheless, the survey results suggest that prescription-drug impairment behind the wheel is an issue that deserves more intense scrutiny.

Most Chicago drivers would never get behind the wheel while drunk, yet many of us who take sleep aids at night may be unknowingly impaired during our morning commutes. If you take a prescription drug that can cause drowsiness, you may wish to speak to your doctor about how the drug affects you while driving.

Source: New York Times, “To Judge Sleep Aids, U.S. Looks at Drowsy Driving in the Morning,” Katie Thomas, Aug. 13, 2013

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