POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 111 Drugs and the Older Driver No matter what your age, being able to drive means independence. This independence comes with the responsibility to drive safely. "If you've driven for most of your life, you'll want to keep driving as long as possible," says Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council. He points out that drivers over 80 are the fastest-growing segment of the driving population. However, based on kilometres driven, older drivers have more collisions than any other age group. Can seniors be safe drivers? Definitely yes, maintains Therien, if they recognize age-related changes and adapt to them. "Older drivers are also very likely to be taking several medications, some of which may affect driving skills," he continues. "To be a safe driver, you need to use your medication correctly and know how it can affect your ability to drive." According to the Canada Safety Council, the main factors in collisions involving older drivers are slow response, not seeing a sign, car, or pedestrian, and interaction with other drivers. Medications can make a driver more susceptible to any of these factors - and Canadians over age 65 take an average of nine medications daily, including prescription, over-the-counter and herbal. 1 How Medications Affect Driving Medication can have a positive or negative effect on driving ability. Some people, such as epileptics, may not be able to drive at all without medication. An older driver with untreated depression is at high risk due to decreased concentration and slower decision making. However, treatment may also carry a risk - 10 milligrams of ValiumÆ (an anti-anxiety medication) can produce more driving impairment than a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10; the Criminal Code limit in Canada is 0.08. Physicians prescribe benzodiazepines, to combat anxiety and insomnia among seniors. They can have side effects such as drowsiness, impaired motor function and confusion. A Montreal study of more than 224,000 drivers aged from 67 to 84 found that those on a long-acting form of benzodiazepine had 45 per cent more injury-related collisions. 2 Drugs that slow you down also reduce your ability to make decisions and process information rapidly. Seniors taking painkillers which contain codeine or propoxyphene may experience sedation and mild impairment. Even over-the-counter drugs can reduce driving ability. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and poor concentration. Tranquilizers or cold remedies, such as cold tablets, cough syrup, and sleeping pills, can reduce driving ability. Most seniors do not discuss their over-the-counter drugs with their doctor. Combinations of drugs can produce unexpected side effects and bad reactions. If you have more than one doctor prescribing medications without knowing what the others are prescribing, or if your doctor does not know about the over-the-counter drugs you are taking, you could be in danger. Canada Safety Council C A N A D A ’ S V O I C E A N D R E S O U R C E F O R S A F E T Y