Update: Fatigue and Benadryl Might Have Contributed to 2017 SEPTA Crash

December 3, 2018

It’s been nearly two years since the January 5, 2017, West Philadelphia trolley crash. Many people are still talking about the incident, especially in the wake of new findings about why the collision most likely occurred in the first place. As reported in a September 2018 Philly Voice piece, investigators are considering the role that sleep deprivation, worsened by Benadryl, played in the event that left nearly 50 individuals with injuries.

Specifically, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the trolley operator, who was ill at the time he was at work, may have also been extremely fatigued. The fatigue might have been a combination of inadequate amounts of rest mixed with too many doses of antihistamine diphenhydramine, the active ingredient found in over-the-counter Benadryl.

These findings bring up red flags, not to mention discussion points, regarding worker impairment.

Certainly, transportation employees should be particularly aware of their physical and mental states, but so should any workers whose duties include operating any kind of machinery or vehicle. It’s one thing to nod off at your desk in front of your computer; you may get reprimanded, but you probably won’t hurt anyone. It’s another thing to knowingly put yourself and others at risk by misusing medications.

Why Be Cautious About Working With Antihistamine Diphenhydramine in Your System?

Make no mistake: Antihistamine diphenhydramine can be the right choice if you have a terrible winter cold or are suffering from a whopping case of springtime allergies brought on by a trip to Longwood Gardens. However, its common side effects do not pair well with being at your most alert.

Three of the top antihistamine diphenhydramine warnings are particularly disconcerting. The first is a propensity to cause drowsiness. While this might be suitable in the evening to help you sleep, it isn’t an advantage if you have a full day of work ahead of you. The second worrisome side effect? Blurred vision. Though this doesn’t happen to everyone, it should make you think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car, SUV –or trolley.

The final often-reported side effect that can have instant ramifications for anyone operating machinery is dizziness. We’ve all felt off-balance; imagine feeling that way when you have to make split-second decisions, such as putting on the brakes. Though we don’t know how the Philly trolley operator felt immediately before the collision, we can surmise from the NTSB information that he wasn’t at his best. After all, he allegedly took more than the prescribed dosage of antihistamine diphenhydramine, meaning the side effects may have been amplified.

No One Wants–Or Can Afford–On-the-Job Impairment

The West Philadelphia incident received quite a bit of publicity, but it certainly isn’t the only case of this type of medication-related on-the-job impairment. Right now, cold and cough season is getting into full swing. At the same time, people around the Philly and New Jersey areas are busily preparing for the holidays. Can there be much doubt that plenty of workers and drivers are taking antihistamine diphenhydramine, perhaps on top of not getting good quality sleep?

Yes, antihistamine diphenhydramine is a legal drug. However, it shouldn’t be used in the wrong settings or at the wrong times. Being sick while you’re at work can be a struggle. Yet it’s better to either take a day off or (if applicable and you’re not contagious) “work through” mild symptoms than make potentially dangerous errors. In the Philly trolley operator’s case, the accident lost him his position, according to the press. However, results could be worse for you if you are found at fault for causing an accident due to excessive, possibly medication-related, drowsiness.

Bottom line? Use up your paid time off and sick leave when needed. That’s why it’s there. If you have to come to work feeling under the weather, use natural remedies like herbal cough drops, hot tea and lemon, and related products to muddle through the day without the risk of cognitive impairment. It’s better to feel a little sick for a few hours than to regret an avoidable mistake for life.

Were you involved in a crash where the other vehicle operator was drowsy, under the influence, or distracted? Contact Wapner Newman to arrange a free consultation.