[Illicit drugs, medications and traffic accidents]

Ann Pharm Fr. 2008 Aug;66(4):196-205. doi: 10.1016/j.pharma.2008.06.002. Epub 2008 Aug 23.
[Article in French]


The European Union (EU) has 25 member-states and 455 million inhabitants. Statistics on traffic accidents in the EU show that more than 45,000 people are killed annually, including 5200 in France. At the same time, nearly two million persons in the EU require medical treatment for traffic-accident-related injuries, including 109,000 in France. In addition, traffic accidents are the major cause of death of those individuals aged 15 to 24 years. One third of the EU inhabitants will be hospitalized during their life due to a traffic accident with a cost over 160 billion euro (2-3% of the Gross Domestic Product). An important contributing factor to crashes is the use of alcohol and/or illicit drugs or medication when driving, as they exert negative effects on cognition and psychomotor functions. For illicit drugs, abuse of cannabis with or without alcohol is a major concern for the EU. In fact, three million Europeans use cannabis daily and 80% of them drive after use. A number of French studies since 1999 have underlined the high prevalence of cannabis found in the blood of injured or killed drivers. From medical or judicial observations, it is clear that cannabis use increases the risk of traffic accidents. Many groups outside Europe have also shown the association between drug abuse and crashes. The number of casualties related to certain medicines, especially benzodiazepines remains at a high level, particularly in the elderly. In many countries the prevalence of medicinal drugs associated with car accidents is higher than with cannabis. Annex III of the European Union Council Directive of July the 29th 1991 in fact states that a driving license should not be issued to or renewed for applicants or drivers who are dependent on psychotropic substances or use them regularly. Recently, France has categorized the medicinal drugs available in the country by using three pictograms: level one yellow, "be careful"; level two orange, "be very careful"; level three red, "don't drive". It is an important campaign that increases awareness among the public and the medical professionals about the potential dangerous effects of medicinal drugs when driving. The EU objective of reducing the number of fatalities to 25,000 by 2010 will require strengthening measures against the use of alcohol, illicit and medicinal drugs by not well-informed drivers. It is not only a really great challenge, but also a significant investment towards improving public health in France as well as in Europe.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • European Union / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Prescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Prescription Drugs