Preventable Loss: The Persistent Dangers of Driving While Intoxicated

While cars are getting safer and road safety awareness becomes more widespread, one would expect traffic fatalities to decline. But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Nationwide, roadway fatalities rose 7.2% in 2020, despite the fact that Americans drove 430 million fewer miles over the course of the year. The trend continued in 2021, During 2021, there were more highway fatalities than in the previous 16 years. Despite efforts to make the roads safer, this worrying trend is not subsiding

What Makes Driving So Dangerous?

Texting while driving, speeding, or driving recklessly, and tired driving all contribute to the roadway fatality crisis. But one factor that is uniquely prevalent among seriously or fatally injured road users is intoxication. A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that “55.8% of injured or killed roadway users tested positive for one or more drugs (including alcohol).”

The study reported that the most prevalent drug categories present were cannabinoids (25.1%), alcohol (23.1%), stimulants (10.8%), and opioids (9.3%). Additionally, 19.9% of the operators tested were found to have two or more categories of drugs in their system.

Contributing Factors to Intoxicated Driving: Cannabis & Opioids

According to the NHTSA, several factors contribute to these bleak statistics. For one, the increasing number of states moving to legalize the medical and recreational use of cannabis appears to correlate. In places where cannabis was legalized, a 4% increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes has been observed, while crashes with injuries has increased by nearly 6%.

Likewise, the opioid epidemic prompts ongoing concerns about the dangers of opioid intoxication on the road. While the precise impact opioids have on road safety has proven difficult to quantify, studies suggest that people using prescription opioids are at least twice as likely to be involved in a car accident than those who aren’t.

Effects of Driving Under the Influence

Opioids, alcohol, cannabis and other intoxicating substances severely inhibit a person’s ability to make decisions. They also affect vision and perception, coordination and slow reaction time, leading to major impairments when trying to drive a vehicle. Alcohol intoxication can also affect judgment causing a driver to take risks. Cannabis specifically contains psychoactive compounds that affect problem-solving and attention span, which can decrease awareness while driving.

Consequences of Driving while Intoxicated

The results of intoxicated driving can be deadly but the costs can cast a wide net. Fatalities and injuries to you or your passengers, other people on the road and pedestrians could lead to jail time or a criminal record. Even if there were no injuries or damage, a DUI conviction could lead to jail time, loss of your license, or even your job.

The Road to a Safer Future

It’s a tragedy when a single death results from a traffic collision, which makes it nearly unthinkable that over 3,000 of these preventable fatalities occur on U.S. roads every day. While stricter DUI enforcement and road safety education campaigns have worked to decrease these losses, impaired drivers still pose a formidable risk to our roadways.

As statistics suggest, driving while impaired can result in far worse consequences than being convicted of DUI or having to attend an impaired driving program. Every time someone under the influence of substances gets behind the wheel, they put their own lives and the lives of others at risk.

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