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The Medicine Menace

Daily Mail, June 22, 1999
by Ray Massey, Motoring Correspondent

Drugs 'bigger road risk than drink'

DRIVERS taking prescribed drugs can pose a bigger danger on the roads than those who have been drinking, according to researchers.

They found the delayed reaction times of motorists taking medicines was twice that of those who had consumed the legal amount of alcohol.

Researchers at Surrey University assessed the road-handling of 16 volunteers after they had taken commonly-prescribed tranquillisers.

They were asked to hit the brake of the car in which they were sitting as quickly as possible every time a red lamp mounted on the vehicle in front was switched on.

The reaction time of volunteers who had taken tranquillisers was delayed by 120 milli-seconds.

Professor Ian Hindmarch, head of human psychopharmacology at the university, said at motorway speeds this delay would significantly increase the risk of an accident.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'At '70mph, with the tranquillisers, your car would travel a whole vehicle's length before your foot hit the brake pedal.'

If a driver had been drinking they would travel five or six feet. Research at Dundee University concluded there would be 1,000 fewer car crashes and 110 fewer deaths in Britain each year if people on tranquillisers refrained from driving.

The research comes as police carry out trials for roadside drug tests. In October the Department of Transport will receive the results of a three-year study into 'drug driving'.

The RAC wants Britain to adopt a 'traffic light' system of labelling for drugs - favoured by some European countries - with red, amber and green indicating the level of risk to drivers of each medication.

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