Impaired driving refers to either engaging in an activity that reduces your judgment or reaction time or to the ingestion or consumption of alcohol or a drug that adversely affects you ability to driver safely.
Besides drinking or consuming drugs before driving, impaired driving includes driving while distracted or fatigued. All are dangerous practices and all are easily prevented.
All motorists or pedestrians old enough to know are aware that drinking and driving is a dangerous practice. In 2015, 10,215 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes and over 290,000 injured. That’s one injury every 2 minutes and 27 fatalities each day.
Most persons arrested for drunk driving did not just happen to drink too much one night and then drive. Statistics from MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, show that the average drunk driver had driven while intoxicated about 80 times before finally being arrested. Around one-third of those arrested had prior DUI convictions.
It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08%, at which the law presumes you are under the influence. Drivers under 21 may not drive with a BAC of 0.02% and commercial drivers with a a BAC of 0.04%.
Regardless of your BAC level, however, you can still be convicted of DUI so long as you are under the influence. Alcohol at any percentage can leave you “buzzed” or cause you to become drowsy, which is considered under the influence.
If you had been drinking and need to drive, it takes about one hour to metabolize one drink. Drinking coffee, showering or exercising do not speed this process up; only time does. If you are unable to sit out the hours after drinking before driving, then don’t drive. People generally have plenty of options with a designated driver, taxi or ride-sharing service such as Lyft or Uber.
The penalties for drunk or drugged driving are harsh. You can expect to spend time in jail, have your license revoked for several months ( years for repeat offenders) and pay substantially for a fine and costs for mandatory attendance at DUI classes, SR-1 insurance and installation of an ignition interlock system on your car.
Similar to drunk driving, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of either illegal or legal drugs is prohibited. Drugs such as methamphetamine or cocaine can cause you to take unnecessary risks. Marijuana can cause drowsiness or fogginess and slow reactions. Pain killers or opioids are a major problem in the US and can cause cloud judgment in some users, especially those who are not used to the drug or who take an overdose.
Unlike alcohol impairment, an officer who stops you cannot detect the presence of a drug in your system with a breath test. A blood test can detect a drug’s presence but there is generally no legislated level at which it is illegal to drive. Still, there are peace officers with drug recognition training who can observe you and possibly recognize what class of drugs are in your system. Coupled with certain erratic driving behavior and a blood test that indicates the presence of a drug in your system that can affect judgment and reaction time, you can be convicted of DUI or DUID.
If you are on a prescription drug that you have been taking for some time, the risk of driving impaired is low. However, if you take too much or are taking the medication for the first time, refrain from driving until your doctor advises you that is safe to drive. If you have used a drug such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or even marijuana, use an alternate method of transportation.
In recent years, distracted driving has become as much if not more of a scourge on our highways than drunk driving. Most distracted driving injuries and fatalities are attributed to the use of smartphones. It is illegal in all states to text and drive with a hand-held phone. Many states ban use of hand-held cell phones while driving altogether.
Studies show that the average text takes about 5 seconds. Taking your eyes and attention off the road for this long is more than enough time to miss a road hazard, a red light or pedestrian, or swerve into the next lane.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that there are about 660,000 motorists texting or using their smartphones while driving at any time on our highways. In 2015, 3,477 persons were killed in traffic accidents attributed to distracted driving and 391,000 injured, many suffering catastrophic injuries. Teen drivers and their passengers are most at risk since their cell phone is highest among all age groups.
Even hands-free or bluetooth technology is considered unsafe by highway safety advocates since it is an activity that causes you to focus less on driving. This can cause a split second slower reaction to a road hazard.
Avoid use of a cell phone while driving by either turning your phone off or having a passenger answer a call or text, if it is really necessary. Only use a hands-free device if absolutely necessary and keep phone calls as short as possible.
Driving While Drowsy
Falling asleep at the wheel, even for a second or so, is hazardous to your health. In 2013, 44,000 people were injured in traffic accidents as a result of falling asleep or driving while drowsy.
Most drivers have driven while fatigued after a long day at work or returning from an outing or a large restaurant meal. Workers returning home from a night shift or long over-the-road haul are especially susceptible.
You can avoid driving while drowsy by planning ahead and taking alternate transportation to and from work or having someone else drive. If you find yourself dozing off, pull over to a gas station or safe area and take a short nap before continuing. If this is a common occurrence, see your doctor about possible sleep therapy and about ways to develop better sleeping practices.