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Driving Under the Influence: What is Impaired Driving?

Driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, operating while intoxicated, operating vehicle while intoxicated, driving while ability impaired, operating under the influence — these terms and their associated acronyms (DUI, DWI, OWI, OVI, DWAI, OUI) all have similar meanings, but do you know it means to be intoxicated, under the influence of a substance, or to have impaired driving ability?

Each state has its own drunk driving laws, which means the terms have different meanings depending on where you live. They each have their own definitions for “intoxicated” and “impaired.” Let’s break down three causes of impaired driving.

Impaired by Alcohol

Each state has a specified legal limit of alcohol your blood can content before you’re considered driving drunk, or driving under the influence. In most states, the legal limit is under .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Utah’s legal BAC limit is under .05. If you’re pulled over for suspected drunk driving and perform a field test that indicates your BAC exceeds the legal limit, you could be arrested for a DUI.

Alcohol affects everyone in different ways, and in some states, even if your BAC is within the legal limit, you can still be arrested if your driving ability is impaired. In Colorado, for example, you can be arrested for driving while ability impaired (DWAI) if your BAC is under .08 — the legal limit — but evidence such as a field sobriety test indicates your driving ability is impaired. You may be arrested and charged with a DWAI.

In most states, you can be charged with drunk driving without putting the car in motion but have physical control of the vehicle. For instance, you may be charged with a DUI if you’re sitting in a parked car with the engine running if your BAC is over the legal limit.

Impaired by Drugs or Medication

Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and you can be charged with a DUI if caught while under the influence of drugs — legal, illegal, prescription or over the counter (OTC).

Prescription Medications or OTC Drugs

Certain prescription or OTC medications have labels that warn of drowsiness or operating heavy machinery. And these labels have a purpose: these medications can alter how you feel, which means they can alter how you drive. OTC medications that help treat allergy, cold/flu and insomnia symptoms can cause side effects such as drowsiness, nausea and blurred vision. Prescription medications such as opioids for pain relief, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and other drugs can cause similar side effects: blurred vision, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness. These symptoms can affect your driving skills and your judgement.

You should not operate a vehicle if you don’t know how a prescription or OTC medication will affect your driving abilities. And if your medication does cause side effects that impair your ability to drive, make other arrangements. Talk with your pharmacist for more information about the medications you’re taking and their potential side effects.

Drugs and Alcohol Mixed

Often times, drivers who test positive for any kind of illegal, prescription or OTC drugs in their system also test positive for alcohol. Statistics show that 44 percent of drivers involved in fatal car crashes in 2017 tested positive for both drugs and alcohol. Combining alcohol and drugs or using two or more drugs can amplify their effects and increase impairment. The fact is if the drug impairs your ability to drive, an officer has cause to arrest you. Every state has different laws concerning drugged driving.

Legal or Illegal Marijuana

Marijuana is one of the most common drugs found in drivers’ systems and is now legal in several states. However, even in states where marijuana is legal, it’s still illegal to drive under the influence of the drug. Each state sets their own limits for how much THC concentration they allow in your system. For example, in Washington state, you can be arrested for having a THC concentration of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of blood. The same is true in Colorado, but you may also be arrested for a DWAI if the THC concentration is less that 5 nanograms but evidence shows that your driving ability is impaired.

Many people believe that marijuana does not affect your driving ability. However, studies have shown that is slows your reaction time, impairs your executive functions: routine planning, decision-marking and risk-taking, causes problems with road tracking (lane position), and decreases your attention span. This puts you, your passengers and other drivers on the road at risk.

Impaired by Sleep Deprivation

Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk and drugged driving, yet it’s more difficult to regulate and detect. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, drowsiness affects your ability to pay attention to the road, your reaction time for braking or making sudden turns and your decision-making skills. In 2017, 795 people were killed in drowsy-driving-related crashes. And 2013 data shows that there were 72,000 crashes and 44,000 injuries as a result of drowsy driving.

Currently two states have laws about drowsy driving: Arkansas and New Jersey. Arkansas enacted their law in 2013 and classifies fatigued driving as a class A misdemeanor “when the driver involved in a fatal accident has been without sleep for 24 consecutive hours or is in a state of sleep after being without sleep for 24 consecutive hours.” New Jersey’s law, also called Maggie’s Law, says drowsy driving is “a driver that has been without sleep for 24 hours is considered to be driving recklessly, in the same class as an intoxicated driver.”

The CDC also states that you’re more likely to drive drowsy if you:

  • Regularly do not get enough sleep  
  • Are a commercial driver
  • Are a shift worker who works nighttime or long shifts
  • Have a sleep disorder
  • Use medications that cause drowsiness

Preventing Impaired Driving

Impaired drivers — from both alcohol and drugs — can’t assess their level of impairment. It’s important to understand that if you feel different, your driving will be different. Commit to driving sober and making a plan to prevent driving while impaired/intoxicated. Driving while impaired or intoxicated to any degree is not only risky to your own personal health and well-being, but also increases the risk of danger to other drivers, passengers and pedestrians who you encounter while on the road. 

If you’re driving and notice the following symptoms, you should find a safe place to pull off the road and rest:

  • Yawning
  • Blinking frequently
  • Drifting
  • Hitting rumble strips

You can prevent drowsy driving by establishing good sleep habits and acknowledging when you’re too tired to drive. If you have a sleep disorder, seek medical advice for treatment options.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI or other impaired driving charge and need an ignition interlock device, Intoxalock can help. Our state specialists can help walk you through your state’s requirements.

We have 3,000 installation centers nationwide. Contact us today to get started at (833) 623-0200.


Category: Legislation

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