NTSB: Investigates Links Between Drugs and Car Crashes
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) intends to produce a list of over-the-counter and prescription medicines that are safe to use by operators of trucks, trains, boats and buses, the AP/Modesto Bee reports. The NTSB currently tests pilots killed in plane crashes for prescription and drug store medications known to impair driving, but the agency wants to extend the testing to include anyone operating commercial freight and passenger vehicles involved in a fatal crash. Since 1987, the NTSB has "investigated over 100 accidents in all modes of passenger transportation that involved prescription or over-the-counter medications whose effects could potentially impair the vehicle's operator." The investigation revealed that 2% -- or 84 of 4,840 -- of fatal plane crashes occurring between 1987 and 1996 were due at least in part to drowsiness caused by prescription and OTC drugs. In addition, the NTSB has requested the FDA design easily recognizable warning labels for drugs that have the power to limit driving ability. The FDA took steps in March to make labels more effective, requiring large-print instructions and emphasis on proper dosages and safety warnings.
Highway Zzzs Problematic, Too
The NTSB's recommendations, however, exclude highway accidents, which fall under the jurisdiction of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA estimates that 100,000 crashes -- about 3%-4% -- result from drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. But little data is collected on the roles prescription drugs, like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and OTC drugs, like antihistamines, play in these accidents. Currently, most surface transportation operators involved in accidents are screened for illegal drugs, and railway operators involved in wrecks are tested for barbiturates and drugs such as Valium. The lack of information prompted the NTSB to encourage the Transportation Department to require toxicological tests on a "representative sample of operators involved in fatal highway, railroad, bus and marine accidents" (Riechmann, 1/19).