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Older drivers five times more likely to be in car accident

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Older drivers who use prescription psychoactive drugs such as benzodiazepines may be five times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident, a Curtin University study has found.

The study, headed by Associate Professor Lynn Meuleners from the Curtin Monash Accident Research Centre (C-MARC), concluded that the use of psychoactive medications, particularly benzodiazepines and anti-depressants, increased the likelihood of involvement in motor vehicle crashes for older drivers.

The study, Psychoactive Medications and Crash Involvement Requiring Hospitalization for Older Drivers: A Population-Based Study looked at more than 600 individuals aged 60 and older who were hospitalised as the result of a motor vehicle crash between 2002 and 2008 in Western Australia.

Associate Professor Meuleners said the level of impairment caused by benzodiazepines and some anti-depressants could be compared to that of drinking alcohol.

“The role of alcohol in traffic crashes has been established, but for prescribed medications there is limited current, evidence-based information,” she said.

“The usage of medications, particularly benzodiazepines and anti-depressants, may contribute to a longer reaction time when faced with the unexpected while driving.

“In this study, older drivers exposed to benzodiazepines were five times as likely to be involved in a hospitalisation crash, and almost twice as likely for drivers exposed to anti-depressants.

“Licensing authorities should be alerted to the results of this study to consider the implications of the findings for policy and management for older drivers.

“Inclusion of such medications on medical reporting forms for older drivers to licensing authorities would enable ongoing surveillance that would provide a more comprehensive evidence base of the need for stricter regulatory policies.”

Benzodiazepines and antidepressants are frequently used by people over 60, and polypharmacy (using several drugs at the same time) is also more common among this group.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


Associate Professor Lynn Meuleners, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 , Email:

Kristy Jones, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 9085, Mobile: 0402 517 300, Email:


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