Driving While Impaired -- Alcohol and Drugs

FACT:   An estimated 32% of fatal car crashes involve an intoxicated driver or pedestrian. (NHTSA)

FACT:   3,952 fatally injured drivers tested positive for drug involvement. (FARS)

FACT: Over 1.2 million drivers were arrested in 2011 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. (FBI)

FACT: Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of those crashes involve an underage drinking driver. (SAMHSA)

FACT: On average, two in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime. (NHTSA)

Alcohol, drugs and driving simply do not go together. Driving requires a person’s attentiveness and the ability to make quick decisions on the road, to react to changes in the environment and execute specific, often difficult maneuvers behind the wheel. When drinking alcohol, using drugs, or being distracted for any reason, driving becomes dangerous – and potentially lethal!

Despite increased public awareness, drinking and drugged driving continues:

FACT: In 2012, 29.1 million people admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol – that’s more than the population of Texas.

FACT: According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 9.9 million people aged 12 or older (or 3.8 percent of adolescents and adults) reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the year prior to being surveyed.


Alcohol is a depressant because it slows down the functions of the central nervous system. This means that normal brain function is delayed, and a person is unable to perform normally. Alcohol affects a person’s information-processing skills, also known as cognitive skills, and hand-eye coordination, also referred to as psychomotor skills.

Consuming alcohol prior to driving greatly increases the risk of car accidents, highway injuries, and vehicular deaths. The greater the amount of alcohol consumed, the more likely a person is to be involved in an accident. When alcohol is consumed, many of the skills that safe driving requires – such as judgment, concentration, comprehension, coordination, visual acuity, and reaction time – become impaired.


Americans know the terrible consequences of drunk driving and are becoming more aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Drugged driving poses similar threats to public safety because drugs have adverse effects on judgment, reaction time, motor skills, and memory. When misused, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and illegal drugs can impair perception, judgment, motor skills, and memory.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Roadside Survey, more than 16% of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications (11% tested positive for illegal drugs).  In 2009, 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one drug (illegal, prescription and/or over-the-counter).

According to NSDUH data, men are more likely than women to drive under the influence of an illicit drug or alcohol. And young adults aged 18 to 25 are more likely to drive after taking drugs than other age groups.


Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among young people aged 16 to 19. When teens’ relative lack of driving experience is combined with the use of marijuana or other substances that affect cognitive and motor abilities, the results can be tragic.

In 2011, 12 percent of high school seniors responding to the Monitoring the Future survey admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana in the 2 weeks prior to the survey.

Marijuana and Driving

Since marijuana is the second most commonly used drug associated with drinking and drugged driving after alcohol, it is important to understand why it is particularly dangerous.

THC, the high producing element in marijuana, affects areas of the brain that control body movements, balance, coordination, memory and judgment. Evidence from both real and simulated driving studies indicate that marijuana negatively affects a driver’s attentiveness, perception of time and speed, and ability to draw on information obtained from past experiences.

Research also shows that impairment increases significantly when marijuana use is combined with alcohol. Studies have found that many drivers test positive for alcohol and THC, making it clear that drinking and drugged driving are often linked behaviors.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a Crime

Driving under the influence (DUI), also known as driving while intoxicated (DWI), drunk driving, or impaired driving is the crime of driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs, including those prescribed by physicians.

With alcohol, a drunk driver’s level of intoxication is typically determined by a measurement of blood alcohol content or BAC. A BAC measurement in excess of a specific threshold level, such as 0.05% or 0.08%, defines the criminal offense with no need to prove impairment. In some jurisdictions, there is an aggravated category of the offense at a higher BAC level, such as 0.12%.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that specifically target drugged drivers. Almost one-third of states have adopted the per se standard that forbid any presence of a prohibited substance or drug in the driver's body while in control of the vehicle, without any other evidence of impairment. Others have established specific limits for the presence of intoxicating drugs, while still others follow a zero tolerance rule with regards to the presence of intoxicating drugs in a person's system.

Being convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can impact your life in ways you may not be aware of, including loss of employment, prevention of employment in certain jobs, higher insurance rates, serious financial setbacks, personal and family embarrassment, and possible incarceration.

The consequences of driving while impaired are far reaching, and the effects impact not only impaired drivers, but many, many others.

Distracted Driving

Along with the dangerous implications of drinking or drugging and driving, the dangers of distracted driving are becoming increasingly prevalent across American society.

Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting, and eating. Using in-vehicle technologies (such as navigation systems) can also be sources of distraction. While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction: visual -- taking your eyes off the road; manual -- taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive -- taking your mind off of driving.

Other Vehicles -- Not Just Automobiles:   A growing number of alcohol- and drug-related crashes occur on water and snow while motor boating, jet-skiing and/or snowmobiling.

Last modified onFriday, 26 June 2015 15:59
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