People who take medications that adversely affect driving ability are not permitted to drive. However, there is no scientific evidence that these medications have a negative effect on driving ability in people who use them long term. Commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the universities of Maastricht, Utrecht and Groningen will study whether people who engage in long-term use of medications that typically impair driving ability are in fact fit to drive. The answer will be of great social and economic value. Participants for the study are still being sought.
The drugs involved in the study are common antidepressants, sedatives and anti-anxiety medications. These fall into what are known as ‘category III drugs’, which means they have a serious or potentially dangerous influence on driving ability. In the Netherlands, a large number of people use these medications long term. Almost a million Dutch people use antidepressants, and more than 10% of the population take sedatives or anti-anxiety medications. Of users up to 65 years of age, 41% take such drugs daily or almost daily (Dutch Foundation for Pharmaceutical Statistics [SFK] 2011; National Drug Monitor 2011).
Driving after taking category III drugs is officially prohibited, but in practice it does happen. According to a 2006 study, 71% of people who take medications that could impair their driving ability continued to drive.
The prohibition on driving after using such drugs is based on research with healthy participants, who use the medications once or for a short period only. This allowed for the identification of the acute effects on driving ability. The everyday effects for long-term users, however, remain unclear. This will change in the coming two years thanks to the study ‘Determining fitness to drive in long-term use of medications’.
If you have been using drugs for depression, sleep problems or anxiety for more than six months, you can register to take part in the study via the website
. Participants are being sought to take part in tests in Maastricht, Groningen and Utrecht, including a driving test under professional supervision (from a certified driving instructor, who can intervene if necessary to ensure safety). The results of long-term medication users will be compared to those of road users who do not use medication. The findings will underpin future, revised regulations, which may clear long-term users of category III drugs to drive. Participation in the study will have no consequences for users’ driving licences.
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Prof. Hedderik van Rijn explains his research into the perception of time in a video lecture (in Dutch) by the Universiteit van Nederland.