Many of us are familiar with the dangers of drunk driving, but many also don’t know that drugged driving – or driving under the influence of either illicit or legal drugs, such as narcotic prescription medications is just as dangerous. Any drug that acts on the brain can inadvertently impair the motor skills, judgment capabilities, reaction time and sensory perceptions – be it marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines or opiates (including heroin and other painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin).
Some drivers may be convinced they are driving safe as there is no alcohol consumption, but the fact is that drugs affect an individual’s driving ability as much as alcohol and driving under the influence not only puts the driver but also others on the road at immense risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of weekend nighttime driving under the influence of marijuana among drivers aged 16 years and above has increased by 48 percent, from almost 9 percent in 2007 to 12.6 percent in 2013–2014. Also, males are far more likely to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol than women and driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol is most common for those in the 21 to 25 age bracket.
How drugs impair driving abilities
Different drugs affect our driving abilities in different ways depending on their impact on the body and mind. Some tend to have more specific, added effects than the others:
- Marijuana – Creates confusion and impairs sensory perception and judgment abilities
- Amphetamines/stimulants – Generates euphoria, aggression and impulsiveness, and fatigue as it wears off
- Ecstasy – Causes paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, blurred vision
- Opiates (heroin, codeine, etc.) – Slow down the reactions, reduce thinking ability, impair motor skills and obscure vision
Sometimes, even mixing of over-the-counter drugs may impact the driving ability adversely. Drugs tend to stay in the system for a longer time than alcohol, sometimes as long as 12 hours or even more depending upon the amount taken and body’s response. So, it is very difficult to establish a ‘safe period’ to start driving after drug consumption.
What’s even more dangerous is the mixing of drugs and alcohol. Combining substances that strongly impair driving ability almost always guarantees disaster. Also, it is not possible to always predict how a given combination will affect the driver. Sometimes, combining alcohol with prescription drugs may cause side-effects normally not shown by the particular medication. It can even result in accidental death.
Prevention and education
Alcohol detection in the blood is relatively easy since there is a 0.08 percent legal limit in the United States. However, there exists no agreed limit for drug impairment. Some states do have some laws making it illegal to drive in case of any detectable level of illicit drug in the driver’s blood while others define drugged driving as when a drug causes the driving to be impaired. Due to the limitations on the ability to measure drug levels in the body, it can be extremely difficult to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs at the accident scene – some drugs tend to linger in the body days or even weeks after ingestion.
While healthcare professionals should definitely learn to identify patients with substance abuse and talk to them about the harms of driving under the influence of drugs, parents should also make it a point to talk to young drivers about safe driving. If you know someone who’s suffering from a substance abuse problem and often drives under the influence, do urge them to seek treatment immediately – it could not only save theirs but the lives of many others.
If you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse contact the Florida Drug Addiction Helpline for information on drug addiction treatment centers in Florida. You can call at our 24/7 Helpline number 855-982-2401 for expert advice on finding the best drug rehabs in Florida or chat online with our experts to know more.