Lasting effect of sleep drugs may contribute to drowsy driving accidents

It can be difficult to prove that a sleepy driver caused a car accident. Unlike impaired driving, no objective blood or breath test can determine whether fatigue played a role in a crash. There are also no specific criteria to establish at what point fatigue affects driving.

Accidents that occur after midnight and through the morning rush hour often involve drowsy drivers. In a recent West Virginia car crash that occurred during the morning hours, one driver flipped her car as she sought to avoid another vehicle. She was flown to a local hospital with a serious neck injury. While the cause of the accident is unknown, fatigue may have played a role in slower than normal response times.

Restless nights and shift work, such as a 12-hour nursing night shift, may result in tired drivers on the roads in the early morning hours. Another concern is the continuing effect of sleep drugs. Recently, the Federal Drug Administration stepped up its review of how safely prescription sleep medications allow people to wake up.

Is it safe to drive the morning after taking a sleep medication?

Some consumer advocates have warned that a link exists between sleep medications and drowsy driving accidents the next day. The problem is worth further study considering that doctors wrote approximately 60 million prescriptions for sleep aids last year, according to research by IMS Health.

Over the summer, the FDA rejected an application from Merck for a new sleep aid called suvorexant, because a study showed some people struggled to drive the next day. Several women who were a part of the study could not finish the driving tests because of their extreme drowsiness.

The agency is taking a closer look at all insomnia medications and will soon require that manufacturers conduct more testing. Studies on one sleep drug showed that the drug affected women longer than men, so the manufacturer suggested a smaller dose for women. In part because of this study, the agency also took an unusual step at the beginning of this year. It required that manufacturers cut the dosage of zolpidem (also known as Ambien) for women.

Driving while taking an allergy medication or prescription sleep drug may constitute negligent conduct. It might be necessary, however, to conduct a thorough investigation to uncover that a driver was under the influence of a medication that warned against driving. This is just one example of the difficultly inherent in determining the cause of a car wreck.

If you or a loved one suffered a severe injury in an automobile accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Depending on the facts of your case, you may be entitled to receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.