To prevent drowsy driving, FDA calls for lower dose of Lunesta

In an effort to prevent accidents caused by drowsy drivers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced recently that it will require the manufacturers of Lunesta, a popular sleeping pill, to lower the drug's recommended starting dose.

The starting dose for Lunesta, which was previously set at two milligrams, will be reduced to one milligram according to the FDA directive. Higher doses can still be prescribed as needed.

The FDA announced the change after data revealed that some Lunesta users were not alert enough to drive in the morning after taking the drug at bedtime, even when they felt completely alert. The findings suggest that a dose of 2 milligrams could result in an impairment of driving skills, memory and coordination for up to 11 hours after taking the drug. At higher doses, the impairment was even more pronounced and prolonged.

Drowsy driving vs. drunk driving

The risks created by fatigued driving are similar to those associated with drunk driving. Like drunk drivers, drowsy drivers experience changes such as delayed reaction times, impaired judgment and vision changes, all of which can increase the risk of traffic accidents.

In fact, according to data cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, a driver who has been awake for 18 hours experiences a level of impairment comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05. At 24 hours without sleep, the impairment is comparable to having a BAC of 0.10 - well above the legal limit for drunk driving.

Fatigued driving fatalities

Drowsy driving claimed at least 11,000 lives on U.S. roadways between 2000 and 2010, according to federal crash data. However, because it is difficult for authorities to determine with any certainty when a driver is fatigued, the actual death toll could be far higher.

Unfortunately, this same factor makes it difficult for states to enact enforceable legislation to combat the widespread drowsy driving problem. Unlike alcohol or drugs, which leave detectable traces in a driver's blood, or even texting, which leaves an electronic "paper trail," drowsy driving is often undetectable to everyone except the sleepy drivers themselves.

Drowsy driving prevention

To help minimize the risk of drowsy driving accidents, the Pennsylvania Department of transportation makes the following recommendations for drivers:

  • Get enough sleep; adults typically need 7 to 9 hours each night to stay alert
  • Take regular breaks from driving on long trips, approximately once every 100 miles or two hours
  • Travel with a companion so you can take turns driving and stay alert by talking
  • Avoid using alcohol or medications that could make you drowsy; read the labels and talk to your doctor if you have questions about possible side effects

If you have been hurt in a crash in Pennsylvania, you may be able to obtain financial compensation for the resulting medical bills, lost wages and other expenses resulting from your injuries. Schedule a consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn more.