The offense of driving under the influence, also known as a DUI, typically relates to alcohol intoxication. However, alcohol is just one of countless substances that can impair one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. In fact, prescription drugs, over the-counter-medications, illegal substances, and even sleep deprivation can impair a driver’s judgement, perception, alertness, concentration, and motor skills. If you drive under the influence of any of these substances, you could be charged with a DUI. Different drugs affect drivers in different ways and experts consider driving while taking any drug to be just as (if not more) dangerous than alcohol.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2010 survey, roughly 10 million Americans drove under the influence of illegal drugs during the previous year. In a similar study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) in the same year, 16% of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for at least one illegal or prescription drug.
Along with the dangers of drinking or drugging while driving, distracted driving is increasingly prevalent in America and has been linked to traffic accidents, personal injuries and fatalities for more than half a decade. The latest statistics show motor vehicle fatalities are up 6% from 2015. More than 40,000 people were killed on our nation’s roadways last year, and distracted driving is a major contributor. [https://www.nsc.org/road-safety/get-involved/distracted-driving-awareness-month]
In 2009, Virginia passed the first distracted driving laws making texting while driving illegal.
However, this was a secondary enforcement ban which meant that police officers needed another reason, such as another traffic violation, to pull drivers over to give them a ticket for texting. In addition to the text messaging, school bus drivers and novice drivers (those under 18 years old) were also banned from all cell phone. In 2013, the laws became tougher making texting while driving a primary offense with increased fines. [www.dmv.com]
In an attempt to solve the “text messaging” problem, automotive manufacturers have developed a “work-around” solution by adding more technology to new vehicles—Bluetooth and other technologies, allowing us to use our phones hands-free. However, despite the many technological advances, the “hands-free approach” may not be working as reported in an article by New York Times in 2016.
According to Robert Gordon, a senior vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, “Insurance companies, which closely track auto accidents, are convinced that the increasing use of electronic devices while driving is the biggest cause of the rise in road fatalities and is a serious public safety concern for the nation.” [NYTmes.com, 11/15/16]
Beyond texting and general cell phone use, distracted driving also includes eating and using car navigation systems. While these diversions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction: visual — taking your eyes off the road; manual — taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive — taking your mind off of driving.
Even if you think you are an above-average driver, you are not shielded from the effects of driving under the influence or distracted driving.
Beyond the personal embarrassment of a DUI, there are numerous consequences that you may not be aware of, including higher insurance rates, potential loss of employment, inability to get hired for certain jobs, serious financial setbacks, and possible incarceration.