Alcohol and drugs impair driving ability in many ways

-- Metro Creative ServicesNovember 21, 2012 

Millions of people die each year due to alcohol- and drug-related motor vehicle accidents. Many people simply do not realize how much alcohol and drugs affect one's ability to operate a motor vehicle. Many more may mistakenly feel they won't be among the many people who cause injuries to themselves or others when operating a vehicle in an impaired state. Drugs, whether they are illegal or legal, can impair a person's motor skills, leading to accidents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says almost 30 people in the United States die each day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. That equates to one death every 48 minutes. Many other accidents and fatalities can be traced back to other substances, whether legal or illegal. Using drugs such as marijuana and cocaine can be linked to roughly 20% of motor vehicle driver deaths in the United States. Compounding the problem is that these drugs are often used in conjunction with alcohol.

MADD Canada estimates that a minimum of 1,074 fatalities in 2009 could be attributed to impairment-related driving in that country. Moreover, it is also estimated that 63,338 were injured in alcohol- and drug-related crashes the same year.

What is BAC?

BAC, or blood-alcohol concentration, measures the amount of milligrams of alcohol that is in 100 milliliters of blood. Each drink a person consumes increases his or her BAC.

The legal BAC varies all over the world. Some countries have a zero-tolerance policy, while in Canada and much of the United States the legal limit is .08%. That means anything more than 80 milligrams of alcohol is punishable.

But a person can still suffer side effects of alcohol consumption if their BAC is below the legal limit. Between .03 and .06 a person may experience mild euphoria, trouble concentrating, a relaxed feeling, talkativeness and decreased inhibition. Between .06 and .08, feelings may be dulled, peripheral vision can decrease, and drivers may have poorer depth perception and struggle to recover from glare.

Drugs that impair driving

Using drugs can also make it hard to safely operate a motor vehicle. Many drugs can affect the body in ways that make it dangerous to drive.

A person may not think they are driving under the influence after taking a cold or allergy pill. However, many of these pills can impair driving ability because they tend to cause drowsiness.

Drugs that act on the brain, such as psychoactive drugs, antidepressants, sleeping medications, and anti-anxiety drugs, can impair reaction time, judgment and motor skills. Most medications that can prove dangerous while driving will carry a warning label that advises against driving or operating heavy machinery.

Illegal drugs have their own share of negative effects. Research indicates that marijuana is one of the most prevalent illegal drugs detected in individuals fatally injured in driving accidents. The Emergency Medical Services Authority says marijuana can cause reduced concentration, difficulty perceiving time and distance, poor speed control, inability to read signs, drowsiness, and distraction.

Cocaine can mask fatigue and impair a person's ability to concentrate. Impulsive behaviors can lead to risk-taking. Some research suggests that antagonistic effects can be produced when cocaine is mixed with alcohol.

The EMSA says the use of amphetamines can interfere with concentration, impair vision and increase the driver's willingness to take risks.

It is better to err on the side of caution and avoid the use of any drugs or alcohol if you plan to be driving. No one wants to cope with the emotional, financial and legal ramifications that can occur should an accident leading to injury or fatality occur.

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