The road safety charity Brake says that drivers are displaying “an alarming level of ignorance and complacency about the dangerous effects of many prescription and over-the-counter medications on driving”.
The charity makes the claim following a survey of 1,000 drivers in which 17% of respondents admitted either ignoring warnings not to drive, or not checking the label at all. The survey results have been released to coincide with the hayfever season, when many people take medication that can impair driving.
Brake says that many prescription and over-the-counter medications can impair the ability to drive safely through drowsiness or by affecting reaction times, coordination, concentration or vision. The charity says that a new drug driving law set to come into force in autumn 2014 should help to clarify the position for drivers who take medication.
In the survey, 44% of respondents who use hayfever medication said they “sometimes or never” check the instructions to see if it will affect driving; 30% were unaware some hayfever and allergy medications can impair driving ability; and awareness is even lower for other medications including decongestants (47%) and cough medicines (60%).
Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services for Allergy UK and an expert in this field, advises sufferers to use the latest available medications.
Ms Jenkins said: "Second and third-generation antihistamines should always be chosen over the first generation antihistamines, which pass into the central nervous system, causing sedation. Tests on real driving indicate that it is advisable for drivers to avoid first generation medications.”
Julie Townsend, Brake’s deputy chief executive, said: "This widespread lack of awareness among drivers is alarming, suggesting many are unwittingly posing a threat to safety on our roads.
“All drivers have a responsibility to ensure they are fit to drive when getting behind the wheel, including not drinking alcohol, ensuring their eyesight is up to scratch, and making sure their medication is safe to drive on.
“If it isn’t, you need to stop driving or seek an alternative medication."