Study links new sleeping pill use with greater collision risk

Researchers conducted a study on sleeping pill use and crash risk, and they determined that new users may be more likely to wreck than non-users.

It is estimated that between 50 and 70 million people in Texas and throughout the U.S. suffer from sleep deprivation or disorders, according to a NBC News report. To get the rest they need, some are prescribed sleep aids. While these medications may be valuable in helping people sleep, a study by the University of Washington and the Group Health Research Institute found they may also increase people's risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. Such accidents could result in serious injuries or death for them, as well as for the occupants of the other vehicles involved.

Studying how sleeping pill use affects accident risk

Publishing their findings in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers led a new user cohort study to better understand the link between drivers' crash risk and their use of prescription sleep aids. Specifically, they focused on the commonly prescribed medications trazodone, zolpidem and temazepam.

For the study, they examined the data from 409,171 licensed drivers in Washington between the ages of 21-years-old and 79-years-old. Those followed in the study were also enrolled in a state health care plan for at least one year between the years of 2003 and 2008. The researchers looked at the enrollees' driving and health care records and used proportional hazards regression to obtain their estimates.

Driving under the influence of sleep aids

The majority or commonly prescribed sleep medications are sedatives. By depressing the body's central nervous system, they may encourage relaxation and help the body sleep. Earlier research showed prescription sleep aids may remain in the bloodstream at high levels into the morning after they are taken. This may cause drowsiness and other effects, which could impair motorists' ability to safely operate their vehicles. These findings prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to advise lowering the recommended dosages of these medications, and suggest physicians prescribe as low a dose as possible.

Falling asleep at the wheel is obviously dangerous, since motorists who are asleep cannot control their vehicles. Whether due to sleeping pill use or fatigue, driving while drowsy is also hazardous. Drowsiness may make drivers less attentive, slow their reaction times and affect their judgment.

New use of sleep aids raises crash risk

Based on the study's findings, the researchers report new users of sleeping pills may experience a crash risk akin to that of motorists with blood alcohol content levels ranging from 0.06 percent to 0.11 percent. Over the five-year period studied, new users of the drug trazodone had a 91 percent higher crash risk than drivers who did not use sleep aids. New users of temazepam had a 27 percent greater risk of getting into an auto accident. The researchers found it was more than twice as likely for new users of zolpidem to be involved in a motor vehicle collision over the study period.

The researchers focused their study on new users of sleeping pills. They found that, over time, people do not seem to experience the effects in the same way. It may be that their bodies compensate for them or that they just get used to them.

Obtaining legal representation

When people in Texas are involved in collisions with motorists who are taking prescription sleep aids, they may suffer serious injuries. Consequently, they may require extensive medical care, the costs of which they may not have been prepared for. Additionally, they may lose income if they must take time off work to recover. People who have been injured in motor vehicle accidents may find it helpful to consult with an attorney to discuss their options.