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Psychotropic drugs and driving: prevalence and types

Francisco Alonso1*, Cristina Esteban1, Luis Montoro2 and Francisco Tortosa3

Author Affiliations

1 DATS (Development and Advising in Traffic Safety) Research Group, INTRAS (Research Institute on Traffic and Road Safety), University of Valencia, Serpis 29, Valencia 46022, Spain

2 FACTHUM.lab (Human Factor and Road Safety), INTRAS (University Research Institute on Traffic and Road Safety), University of Valencia, Serpis 29, Valencia 46022, Spain

3 PRECOVIR (Prevention of Risk Behavior on the Road), INTRAS (Research Institute on Traffic and Road Safety), University of Valencia, Serpis 29, Valencia 46022, Spain

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Annals of General Psychiatry 2014, 13:14  doi:10.1186/1744-859X-13-14

Published: 8 May 2014



Some psychotropic medications (e.g., benzodiazepines, sedative antidepressants, etc.) may impair cognitive and psychomotor functions and, therefore, endanger traffic safety (Ravera, Br J Clin Pharmacol, 72(3):505–513, 2011). They affect detection, registration, and information processing, problem solving, and decision-making processes, and they also affect emotional and social aspects. The objective of this research was to clarify three closely related issues that are significant for traffic safety: the prevalence of psychotropic drugs on driving, the most frequently used psychotropic drugs to treat depression, anxiety, insomnia, or any tranquilizers (whether it is a medical prescription or self-medication), and finally, provide a further understanding of the socio-demographic and psycho-social characteristics of drivers related to the psychotropic drugs consumption in Spain.


A sample of 1,200 Spanish drivers ranging from 18 to 64 years was used, 666 men and 534 women were asked to answer a questionnaire composed by a set of questions structured in different sections. The only selection criteria were to be in possession of any type of driving license for vehicles other than motorcycles and drive frequently.


The results showed that 15% of the participants were consuming psychotropic drugs to treat depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, insomnia, or tranquilizers; 13.5% were using drugs to treat one of these disorders; while 1.5% used them for several of these disorders. A 2.5% of drivers were using medicines to treat depression, 2.6% to treat anxiety, and 3.7% to treat insomnia. The 8.3% of those drivers who were not using any drugs to treat these three disorders were occasionally using some type of tranquilizers. Benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were the most used type of medicines among drivers. Benzodiazepines were the most used medicines to treat anxiety, while SSRIs were the most used to treat depression, 56.5% and 43.5%, respectively.


Measures can be developed to reduce traffic accidents caused by the effects of these drugs; however, this will only be possible once the drivers and the use of these drugs are understood. Health care professionals and patients should be properly informed about the potential effects of some psychotropic medications on driving abilities considering individual and group differences.

Drivers; Road safety; Medicines; Psychotropic drugs; Epidemiology; Public health