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: More than 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)

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.

 Alcohol

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.

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.

 Drugs

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. Studies show that 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.

 Marijuana

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.

Delta 9-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.

 Distracted Driving

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 driving.