Alcohol and other substances are taken by people because of the changes they make to a persons body. They may be taken because they invoke feelings of empathy, relaxation, confidence, visual changes or hallucinations. But drugs and alcohol can also affect motor coordination, concentration, perception, reasoning, memory and vision. They can make people drowsy, cause problems with focusing and ability to follow objects with eyes, reaction times, discrimination between light intensity and sound. These issues can all potentially lead to very dangerous circumstances, especially when the person under the influence is behind the wheel of a car, van, truck or motorbike.
Impairment by alcohol or other drugs influences both the risk of a road traffic accident and the severity and outcome of injuries. Statistics show that drunk drivers have a significantly higher risk of being in a crash than drivers who have not consumed any alcohol. In the US, up to 40 percent of all youth road traffic fatalities are directly linked to alcohol. The UK experience shows that in 20 percent of all fatal accidents, the driver was over the limit for alcohol.
The majority of people who drive when under the influence of drugs or alcohol do not believe that their skills are affected until after they are faced with a challenging or dangerous situation. It is only then that they realize their coordination, ability to think quickly and respond appropriately is affected.
The World Health Organization has shown that road traffic accidents are in the top 3 causes of death for people aged between 5 and 44 years old. Worldwide, 90 percent of all countries have national laws prohibiting driving when under the influence. Road accidents can cause serious injuries to a person, including death and the death of others, as well as destruction of property. They cause millions of dollars in lost revenue, costs to health departments and property damage. But at the same time, the social cost of road accidents are significant including suffering, grief, physical and psychological pain and impact on families and jobs.
Road traffic accidents cause victim-related costs such as medical or funeral costs, lost labor and pain suffering and grief. Serious injury as a result of a traffic accident can mean that individuals and families have to fun long term rehabilitation and medical costs. Ongoing psychotherapy may be required if the person is suffering from trauma. There can also be significant changes to employment, loss of work or a loss of job as a result of an accident. The risk of these costs can be significantly less if a person does not drive when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Alcohol is a major cause of accidents and accidental injury on the road. The presence of alcohol in the body has been shown to increase the severity of injuries from accidents. Alcohol has a range of effects that increase accident risk on reaction times, cognitive processing, coordination, vigilance, vision and hearing. The effects of alcohol impairment have been shown to begin at low blood alcohol levels.
Alcohol is a depressant and it has been shown to slow brain function. This causes people to have problems responding quickly enough to situations, make decisions or react to dangers. It can also make people sleepy and fatigued. Research has shown that people who have consumed alcohol have a reduced ability to be able to judge how fast they are moving or the distance between themselves and other objects or people. This is especially dangerous when driving as these skills are essential for knowing how to make safe decisions on the road.
Alcohol can also boost a persons’ confidence which can influence a persons decision to drive and make them take greater risks. A person who is drunk may think that their driving is a lot better, safer and slower than it actually is. Alcohol has also been found to reduce concentration and coordination – being able to shift gears, use indicators, look in side and back mirrors will be more difficult the more alcohol is consumed. With the amount of distractions both inside a vehicle and outside a vehicle, this could cause someone to not see a pedestrian, not use their indicator, run a red light or merge into another vehicle.
A person does not have to be drunk to be affected by alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause impairments to skills, concentration and reflexes. Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC is a measure that is used to determine a persons intoxication and the affect alcohol is having on skills and concentration. The higher the BAC, the higher the intoxication and more significant the impact on skills. BAC refers to the percentage of alcohol in a persons blood. So, a person who has a BAC of 0.05 means that a person has 0.05% of their blood is alcohol. At 0.05BAC, there is double the risk of being involved in a vehicle crash. At 0.08 BAC, there is a 7 times higher risk of being in an accident and at 0.15, it is 25 times more likely. Even if someone appears to be unaffected by alcohol, there will be some impact on driving ability. No amount of skill can compensate for the effects of alcohol on the brain.
As with alcohol, drugs can cause changes to a persons’ mood, reaction times, skills and concentration. Drugs are ingested because of the mind-altering affect they can cause on a persons body and brain. Certain drugs cause more significant impediment, but every drug does increase the risk of being in an accident. A persons’ judgment, driving performance and decision making are all effected by drugs.
At the present time, there is no agreed-upon limit for which impairment by illicit drugs has been reliably demonstrated. Conversely, determining current drug level can be difficult since some drugs stay in the body for days or weeks after ingesting.
When a person takes cannabis, reaction times are slowed, distorted understanding of perception of distance and time can occur and concentration, coordination, alertness and ability to read are also affected. Stimulants and psychoactive drugs such as amphetamines, MDMA or cocaine often make people believe they can achieve things beyond what they are capable. Research has shown that people will take risks and be spontaneous but this can often lead to dangerous situations when a vehicle is involved. People who take amphetamines may become aggressive on the road, take risks and speed. They will often have a loss of concentration, try to multitask and may become abusive to other drivers. Psychoactive drugs may cause people to have blurry or limited vision and have hallucinations. These are incredibly dangerous when a person is in control of a vehicle and driving at any speed. Driving whilst under the influence of heroin or other opiates is inherently dangerous and risky. Opiates slow a persons’ reaction times and makes them very sleepy. A loss of concentration and coordination are also common side effects of the drugs but these can be fatal when driving.
Driving when affected by drugs or alcohol, or a combination of drugs, directly increases the risk of being involved in an accident. To safely drive a vehicle, good coordination and mental alertness is required. Sleepiness, fatigue, lack of concentration and slowed reaction times will put both the driver and other motorists on the road at risk. The consequences when driving under such dangerous conditions far outweigh the high that a person may feel when under the influence. Severe injuries such as broken bones, brain damage and spinal injuries are very real outcomes of a car accident and severe fines and penalties also apply under most circumstances.