• December marks the observance of a very important campaign: 3-D Month: Drunk and Driving Prevention Month!  Pardon the pun, but the statistics on alcohol-related accidents are truly staggering!  Of 42,000 people who die on U.S. Highways annually, more than 18,000 lives are taken due to drunk drivers.  One in every ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related accident in their lifetime.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day in the U.S. 36 people die, and approximately 700 are injured, in car crashes involving an impaired driver. While some crashes might involve other factors as well, it’s probably safe to say that most of that death, and most of that pain, was entirely preventable.  Think about this: Getting behind the wheel when you’re impaired not only puts your life at risk, but the lives of so many others, possibly children. 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has an organized campaign to improve conditions on the roadways.  Some projects they have been able to get approved are:

o       High Visibility Drunk Driving Crackdowns – Twice yearly during high-risk periods such as Labor Day and the December Holidays. 

o       Sobriety Checkpoints – Evaluating drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment at specific points of the roadways.  Signs may be posted in advance.  Average time of stop would be the equivalent of a traffic stoplight.

o       Smart Vehicle Technology-Within the next five years, car manufacturers may have developed DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection Systems for Safety).

o       Ignition Interlocks – Convicted drivers have to blow into a device about the size of a cell phone that is connected to the starting circuit of the vehicle.

We worry about drunk drivers, drowsy drivers, and other risk-takers on the highways, such as drugged drivers.  Driving under the influence of prescription drugs can be deadly.  Medications act on systems in the brain that impair driving ability.  Warnings against the operation of machinery (including motor vehicles) for a specific time after use are included with the medications.  How many pay attention to those warnings?  If prescription drugs are taken without medical supervision (i.e., when abused), impaired driving and other harmful outcomes can result.

Drugs acting on the brain can alter perception, cognition, attention, balance, coordination, reaction time, and other faculties required for safe driving. The effects of specific drugs of abuse differ depending on their mechanisms of action, the amount consumed, the history of the user, and other factors. The principal concern regarding drugged driving is that driving under the influence of any drug that acts on the brain could impair one’s motor skills, reaction time, and judgment.

Behavioral effects of these medications vary widely, depending not only on the drug, but also on the person taking it.  Anti-anxiety drugs can dull alertness and slow reaction time.  Others, like stimulants, can encourage risk-taking and alter the ability to judge distances.  Mixing prescriptions or taking them with alcohol can worsen impairment and sharply increase the risk of crashing.

Almost nightly, we hear on the news about some drunk driving or drugged driving accident where innocent persons lost their lives, many times by a drunk wrong-way driver.  The mystery is how the guilty person has already been involved in similar incidents and is still driving.  It is now time that we recognize and address the dangers that can occur with drugged and drunk driving, a dangerous activity that puts us all at risk.  Drunk and Drugged driving is a public health concern because it puts not only the driver at risk, but also passengers and others who share the road.  

When you are celebrating the holidays, use common sense if drinking, and give a sober friend the keys if you overindulge.  Designated drivers play a valuable part toward the protection of their friends who are impaired, as well as the innocent folks in the other lane.  If you don’t have a designated driver, call someone, or take a cab.  As the saying goes, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk or Under the Influence of Drugs and/or Medications!”



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