Impaired driving is responsible for automobile accidents throughout the United States. The most unfortunate aspect of these accidents is that they are entirely preventable. Impaired driving immediately conjures images of drunk drivers, but there are several other types of impaired driving. Drivers can just as easily be under the influence of psychoactive drugs or impaired by talking/texting on the phone. In short, impaired driving is any action that renders you less able to safely operate your vehicle.
Drunk driving is an American epidemic, this year 10,839 people will die in drunk driving crashes – one every 50 minutes (1). Even more telling is that 1 person every minute is injured in an alcohol related crash (2). In addition to being incredibly dangerous, drunk driving is also extremely costly. Drunk driving costs the average American adult $500 per year (3). Drunk driving is the most deadly form of impaired driving, but hardly the most common.
Driving while talking or texting is by far the most common form of impaired driving; you have probably done it yourself. However, talking/texting while driving is very dangerous. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that talking on a cell phone made a crash or near crash incident 1.3 times more likely (4). The study found texting while driving to be much more dangerous, resulting in truckers being 23.2 times more likely to crash or have a near crash incident while texting (4). It was also determined that “texting took a driver’s focus away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds–enough time…to travel the length of a football field at 55 mph.” (4). While these figures are based upon truckers, it can easily be inferred that similar results would be found in individuals driving cars.
Drugged driving is also incredibly dangerous, but can be more difficult to detect. Police officers are now being trained to recognize signs of impairment from various classes of drugs. One study found that 11% of nighttime, weekend drivers were under the influence of illicit drugs (5). It has been determined that in 2009 4.2% of the population aged 12 and older drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. While this figure alone is alarming, drugged driving is bound to be more prevalent than reported in this study. The total percentage reported is lowered by including many individuals who can’t drive (ages 12-16, or 18 in some states). This percentage is also low because the number of people who willingly admit to using and driving under the influence of illicit drugs is necessarily less than the number of people who actually use and drive under the influence.
Impaired driving imperils all Americans. The numbers clearly show that impaired driving is one of the most dangerous, and frequently committed offenses in the United States. Whether impaired by drugs, alcohol, or cell phone use the danger to other drivers and passengers is immense.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2008. Traffic Safety Annual Assessment Highlights DOT 811 172. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2009. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811172.pdf
- Blincoe, Lawrence, et al. The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2000. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2002. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/economic/EconImpact2000/ Miller, Ted, Diane Lestina, and Rebecca Spicer. Highway Crash Costs in the United States by Driver Age, Blood Alcohol Level, Victim Age, and Restraint Use, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 30, no. 2 (1998): 137-150.
- Taylor, Dexter; Miller, Ted; and Cox, Kenya. Impaired Driving in the United States Cost Fact Sheets. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2002. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/impaired_driving_pg2/US.htm
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. U.S. Department of Transportation Report No. DOT HS 811 175. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2007.