Throughout the years, driving under the influence of alcohol has significantly decreased. Much of that is thanks to awareness campaigns against drunk driving involving various sectors, such as law enforcement, the media and coalitions such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
National trends on drunk driving have dropped in the last few years, with alcohol-impaired driving facilities declining by 27 percent from 2002 versus 2011. But how about driving under the influence of drugs?
The scary thing about drugged driving is that any person, teenagers or adults, is susceptible to drugged driving, whether one is taking illegal drugs, over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs. You might think that this won’t happen to you, and maybe it won’t. I thought so too.
However, a few months ago, right after taking a prescribed medication, I drove directly to work, feeling a little drowsy but thinking I could manage it. While stopping at an intersection at Highway 12, the signal light turned green. I immediately drove forward, not knowing that it was the left turn light that turned green, not the solid green light for my lane. I could have caused a major accident, injuring myself and other road users that day. Fortunately, the car I would have hit swerved away and prevented an accident.
What people don’t think about is the aftermath of car accidents and fatalities resulting from motorists under the influence of drugs. Estimates have shown that 20 percent of car crashes in the U.S. are caused by drugged driving. A survey done in California showed that 14 percent of weekend nighttime motorists tested positive for impaired driving due to prescription drugs, illegal drugs or a combination thereof, compared to about 7 percent of drivers with alcohol in their system. It is not surprising that being under the influence of any drug is dangerous because of its effects to the brain. Motorists may become less attentive and lose their coordination, altering their breaking time and judgment.
In California, a person can still get a DUI for driving under the influence of either illegal or legal drugs too. However, creating drugged driving legislations will not be as simple as in alcohol. Whereas alcohol impairment can be defined through a legal limit (0.08 BAC), there is no easy way to determine an agreed upon limit of impairment for drugs. Medications also affect people in different ways, making it difficult to draw the line of legality.
To combat this issue, law enforcement is stepping up by providing drug recognition experts, or police officers trained to identify drug-impaired drivers. Locally, city teams under the Solano County’s Alcohol Tobacco and other Drugs Prevention Collaborative are also raising awareness campaigns in their communities on the dangers of drugged driving.
What can you do to prevent this issue? As a motorist, learn from my mistake – make sure to read medication labels or consult your pharmacist about the drugs’ side effects. Follow the warning before taking the road; just because it is prescribed to you does not mean your driving will not be affected in any way. As a parent, advise your teens about the dangers of both drunk and drugged driving. As a local resident, talk about this issue and support your community’s awareness and advocacy campaigns. This way, we can collectively reduce drugged driving incidents in our county.
Keirsha Baron is a member of the Solano County ATOD Prevention Collaborative and program assistant for Solano Coalition for Better Health.