How can I Observe National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month?

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is generally packed with holiday celebrations, work parties, and getting together with friends for dinner and drinks. This year, the number of in-person gatherings involving large groups of partygoers will likely be much smaller. However, that does not mean that people will not find a way to celebrate the holidays, even if that just involves getting together at a friend or family member’s home and enjoying a few drinks. Unfortunately, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, this period is considered one of the deadliest times to drive because of the spike in impaired driving.

To raise awareness of impaired driving during the holidays, December has been named National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. Impaired driving accidents cause serious, often fatal injuries that are completely preventable if motorists avoid getting behind the wheel while impaired. Those who are involved in a car accident involving a drunk/impaired driver are urged to contact a qualified accident lawyer for assistance.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 839 people lost their lives in drunk driving-related accidents in 2018. Drunk driving accidents usually make up approximately one-third of all fatal car accidents. However, during the week of December 24 to December 31, that increased to close to 50 percent. On Christmas Day in 2018, 35 people were killed in drunk driving accidents. This tragic loss of lives could have been prevented if the drivers involved in the accidents made the responsible choice to avoid getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink. The following are safety tips that motorists should keep in mind during the month of December, and throughout the year:

  • It is best to plan ahead. When going to a holiday party or dinner with friends, guests should always make sure that there is a designated driver in the group or arrange for a safe ride home by calling a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft. No one should drive after having too much to drink or taking drugs that could cause drowsiness or other impairments.
  • Teen drivers, friends, and family members should be told about the dangers of drunk driving. One bad decision could have tragic consequences.
  • When hosting a holiday party, non-alcoholic beverages should be available for guests who are driving. Some hosts offer a fancy non-alcoholic mocktail so that guests feel like they are enjoying a special, celebratory drink.

How Does Alcohol Impact a Person’s Ability to Operate a Motor Vehicle?

When a motorist has too much alcohol in his or her system, it impairs thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination, all of which are crucial to safely operating a motor vehicle. The amount of alcohol is measured by blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. The legal limit in all 50 states is 0.08 or higher. Although having a BAC of 0.08 significantly increases the risk of a car accident, even a small amount of alcohol can affect a person’s driving ability. In fact, in 2018, 1,878 people were fatally injured in alcohol-related car accidents in which the driver had a BAC of below 0.07. The following shows the effects of BAC on a person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle:

  • BAC of 0.02: Some loss of judgment, feeling relaxed, altered mood, decline in visual functions, and a reduced ability to multitask
  • BAC of 0.05: Impaired judgment, loss of some small-muscle control, lowered alertness, lowered inhibitions, reduced coordination and ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, slower response to emergency driving situations
  • BAC of 0.08: Poor muscle coordination; difficulty detecting danger; impaired judgment, self-control, and memory; poor concentration and speed control; reduced ability to process information; impaired perception
  • BAC of 0.10: Poor coordination, slurred speech, deterioration of reaction time, reduced ability to brake appropriately and stay in the lane
  • BAC of 0.15: Significant loss of muscle control and balance; substantial loss of vehicle control and ability to focus attention on driving tasks, including visual and auditory processing

Which Motorists Have the Greatest Risk for Drunk Driving Accidents?

Even though the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, too many teen drivers get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of death among teens, and close to 25 percent of those accidents involve an underage drunk driver. Of the 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in drunk driving accidents in 2018, 24 percent had a BAC of 0.01 or higher. In addition to having less experience behind the wheel, teen drivers are also more easily distracted and are more likely to tailgate and drive too fast. When any of these unsafe driving behaviors are combined with drunk or drugged driving, the consequences can be devastating.

Older drivers are also at an increased risk of being in a drugged driving car accident. However, the drugs involved are usually prescription medications. If an older driver is taking medication that causes drowsiness, or if he or she took the wrong amount of a drug, it can cause an unintended intoxication. Depending on the drug and the amount that the driver took, this can have a significant impact on the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Older drivers may also be more likely to experience mental decline as they age. As a result, they may be more likely to take an incorrect dose of a medication.

What Other Substances Impair Driving Skills?

In addition to alcohol, there are many other drugs that can affect a motorist’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, including the following:

  • Marijuana can impact a driver’s coordination, judgment, and reaction times.
  • Cocaine and methamphetamines can cause drivers to become aggressive and reckless.
  • Mixing two or more drugs can amplify the effect of each one.
  • Prescription medications, and some over-the-counter medicine can cause drowsiness and dizziness. Motorists should always read the labels before driving. If they have a label that warns against operating heavy machinery when taking a particular drug, they should avoid driving.

Does Marijuana Cause Impaired Driving?

There is a dangerous misconception that marijuana does not cause impairments. In fact, some even believe that marijuana can make people be safer drivers. However, there is scientific evidence that proves this is not the case. Studies show that marijuana impairs motor skills, lane tracking, and cognitive functions, and that the chemical in marijuana can affect a driver’s ability to multitask, which is a skill that drivers need, particularly when navigating heavy traffic, busy parking lots, and road detours. The NHTSA’s Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk Study found that drivers who use marijuana are more likely to be involved in car accidents, but this may be because marijuana users are usually men, who are generally more likely to be in car accidents than women.

The breathalyzer test measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s system. However, there is currently no effective roadside test that accurately detects drug levels in a motorist’s system. This makes it difficult to determine the number of accidents that have been caused by drugged driving. In addition, certain drugs remain in the system for up to weeks at a time. This makes it difficult to know exactly when the drug was used, and whether it caused the impaired driving. In some cases, drivers may have drugs and alcohol in their system, which makes it difficult to know which substance caused the most significant impairments. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, in 2016, over 43 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs, and more than half of those drivers had two or more drugs in their system.

Penalties for Driving While Impaired

Operating a motor vehicle while drunk or under the influence of drugs is a serious crime. In recent decades, the penalties have gotten much more severe. Depending on the circumstances, charges can range from misdemeanors to felony offenses. The driver may face penalties including steep fines, driver’s license revocation, and even jail time. Even a first-time offense can cost up to $10,000 in fines and legal fees. In some cases, the offender will be required to install an ignition interlock device, which prevents the vehicle from starting until the driver blows into the device and confirms a BAC level of 0.02 or below.

Baltimore Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Impaired Driving Accidents

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car accident involving a driver who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We understand how devastating these accidents can be, particularly when the accident causes a tragic fatality. Our dedicated legal team will hold the negligent party responsible for your injuries and ensure that you receive the financial compensation you deserve. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.