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impaired driving
December 3, 2021

The Dangers of Impaired Driving

More than half of motor vehicle accidents are due to someone’s driving while impaired. In high-speed traffic, a moment’s distraction can mean the difference between a near miss and a major pile-up. With nearly every year in the past quarter century having recorded over 30,000 fatal crashes in the U.S., it frequently also means the difference between life and death.

People typically think of impaired driving as “driving drunk,” i.e., driving when blood alcohol concentration from consuming beer/wine/liquor/cocktails exceeds the maximum legal limit of 0.08 grams per deciliter. That’s certainly a major part of the problem—one traffic death every 50 minutes, and over $44 billion worth of damage each year, is attributable to alcohol-impaired driving—but it’s not the whole story.

Not Drunk, But Still Impaired

Among 10,142 traffic fatalities associated with alcohol in 2019, there were 1,775 where the driver(s) had a blood alcohol concentration of under 0.08 grams—sometimes as low as 0.01. For most people, alcohol starts to affect judgment at about 0.02 grams per deciliter, and begins having perceptible effects at 0.05 grams. The result isn’t strictly drunkenness: a person at this level doesn’t behave outrageously or stagger, and may well drive safely enough for ideal road/weather/light conditions. But where visibility is poor, or where traffic is heavy but not so heavy as to slow below 50 miles per hour, a “slightly” impaired driver may become an accident waiting to happen due to:

  • Difficulty visually tracking moving objects
  • Reduced coordination and steering ability
  • Lowered alertness
  • Overconfidence
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Inability to respond instantly to the unexpected

Impaired Driving Without Alcohol

And it’s not only “drinking” that can turn driver and car into a moving road hazard: many other substances can cause equally dangerous impairment. Marijuana is a frequent factor in DUI accidents. Prescription medications and even over-the-counter drugs can also affect judgment, reaction time, or alertness to the point of impairment. A driver doesn’t even have to take anything chemical to become a danger on the road: sleep deprivation is a factor in hundreds if not thousands of fatal crashes each year, and the age of smartphones has generated so many distracted-driving accidents that most states now place significant restrictions on the use of mobile devices behind the wheel.   

How to Prevent Impaired Driving

Obviously, laws alone won’t solve the problem of impaired driving. Reducing the dangers and potential tragedies is a job for every responsible citizen—and the first step is not being part of the problem ourselves. 

  • Stay out of the driver’s seat for several hours after consuming any amount of alcohol or other potentially intoxicating substance. Give your body plenty of time to metabolize it.
  • Carefully read the labels on any prescription or over-the-counter medicine you take. If the label says anything like, “Do not operate heavy machinery within x hours after taking”—remember that a car is heavy machinery. (Enough people have overlooked this fact that most labels now read, “Do not drive or operate heavy machinery.”)
  • Before accepting a new prescription, make sure your doctor is aware of anything you’re already taking, and of whether you or anyone in your family have had problems with drug misuse. Ask about the best schedule for taking the prescription. If you really want to be safe, use public transportation for the first week while keeping a log of your reactions to the medication.
  • Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep before your morning commute (yes, even if you drink two cups of strong coffee with breakfast—being more “awake” is not the same as being less impaired).  
  • Do. Not. Check. Your. Phone. While. Driving. Put it out of reach—or lock it in the trunk—if necessary. No instant-communications benefit is worth the risk of a fatal crash.
  • If you’re interested in doing more to reduce impaired driving, consider joining MADD or another advocacy organization.

Freedom from the Dangers of Addiction

Many impaired drivers also have the larger problem of being addicted to alcohol or other drugs—and with or without motor vehicle accidents, addiction left untreated sets the stage for a host of life-threatening problems. Beach House provides safe detoxification in a medically supervised environment, plus post-detox care to prepare for long-term sobriety. Contact us today to start your journey to freedom.

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