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33 to 66 road fatalities each year due to medication affecting driving performance

10 May 2012

Every year between 33 and 66 road fatalities in the Netherlands can be attributed to the use of medication that affects driving performance. This has been revealed by a recent estimate by experts at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands Forensic Institute and the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research (Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid). These experts were involved in the European DRUID1 research, to which 39 institutes from 17 European countries contributed. The estimates are based on the results of this research.

In 2006, the number of road fatalities related to the use of medication that affects driving performance was estimated at 70. The current estimation is lower, which can be explained by a reduction in the total number of road fatalities each year in the Netherlands by 170 victims since 2006, as well as to a reduction in the use of sleeping pills and sedatives. The latter declined by 15 percent in 2009 due to the personal contribution regulations in health care insurance for these substances.

Research on road users in the Netherlands reveals that common sleeping pills, sedatives and strong painkillers are being used by about 1.2 percent of all car drivers (by way of comparison: 2.4 percent of drivers have drunk alcohol).

The DRUID research has revealed how great the increased risk of an accident is after taking medication that affects driving performance. From this can be derived that between five and ten percent of all road fatalities are the result of substances that affect driving performance. In 2011, there were 661 road fatalities in the Netherlands. This means that an estimated 33 to 66 fatalities can be attributed to the use of these substances.

It is important to note that only the most common substances that affect driving performance have been included in the DRUID research. This means that the estimate could be erring on the positive side. On the other hand, it is probable that the problem or symptom itself (for example insomnia, depression or pain) could also be negatively affecting driving performance. In practice, therefore, it is not only the medication but a combination of problem and medication that determines the risk of an accident.

The DRUID researchers’ advice is to involve pharmacists and GPs more in the supervision of the use of substances that affect driving performance by road users. For example, the best moment to give information on coping with the negative effects on driving performance (most common at the start of the treatment) is at the start of the treatment and when any changes are introduced (different amounts and combinations with other substances that affect driving performance).
They also advise updating the information leaflet and introducing a better warning system for the effects on driving performance. Among the recommendations is the use of symbols for different categories (weak to strong influence). These could then be used on the packaging of medication and in the written and digital information.

Note for the press

This is a joint press release by the University of Groningen, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research.

More information:
Prof. J.J. de Gier, University of Groningen

On behalf of Dr B.E. Smink (NFI) and S. Houwing (SWOV).

University of Groningen: press officer Jos Speekman, tel 050-3635480/06-51702959
NFI: press officer Eef Herregodts, tel 070 888 6117/06-10406271
SWOV: press officer Han Tonnon, tel 070-3173315.

¹ Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Drugs and Medicines, see

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.29 p.m.
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