According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of all fatal automobile accidents are directly attributable to alcohol. It is no mystery that alcohol impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
However, alcohol is not the only cause of impaired driving and serious auto accidents. Multiple factors can prevent a driver from having complete control of a vehicle. Some of these factors are behaviors that many drivers engage in every day without considering the effects on their driving abilities. In the event of a serious accident, a driver proven to be impaired as a result of any of these factors will most likely be found liable — and face significant legal and monetary consequences.
In early 2012, the Food and Drug Administration ruled manufacturers of prescription sleep aids, such as Ambien, must include warning labels regarding the possibility of “sleep driving.” Dozens of patients reported incidents of driving their vehicles after taking the drug — without any recollection of the event. Although driving while sleeping is an extreme reaction, many prescription drugs can still influence a patient’s ability to drive safely. Discuss the possible side effects with your doctor, read the warnings that come with the drugs and avoid driving until you know how a new prescription will affect you.
Prescription medications are not the only drugs that can impair driving. Over-the-counter remedies, such as cold and flu medicines, can also affect one’s ability to drive. For example, some decongestants can cause drowsiness. Drivers should not get behind the wheel until they know how a drug affects them, especially when combined with other medications.
According to doctors, certain neurological conditions can impair the ability to drive, particularly if the condition is degenerative or progressive. Seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, vertigo and other diseases of the nervous system can slow reaction time and affect alertness and muscle control. These conditions can even cause loss of consciousness. In many cases, patients with these conditions are legally prohibited from driving.
On June 19, 1999, best-selling author Stephen King was critically injured when he was struck by a van driven by Bryan Smith. Smith explained to authorities that he was momentarily distracted by his dog, who was riding unrestrained in the vehicle. As a result, Smith was charged with aggravated assault and driving to endanger. He was eventually convicted of the driving to endanger charge and sentenced to jail time, in addition to losing his license. This case serves as a reminder that driving with the family dog — or any animal — can take a driver’s focus off the road. Animals must be properly restrained in the vehicle to prevent impaired driving.
The National Sleep Foundation found that two-thirds of all drivers admit to driving while sleepy. Thirty-seven percent of drivers have actually fallen asleep while driving. Studies have found that driving while tired is equivalent to driving drunk. Tired drivers are responsible for thousands of accidents each year. Clearly, it is important to drive only when fully rested and capable of focusing on the road.
Drivers often consider “driving while impaired” to include driving after using alcohol or illegal drugs. However, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, a lack of sleep and even the family pet can contribute to a serious accident. Avoid the serious consequences that can come from impaired driving, and only drive when you are fully alert and capable of focusing on the task at hand.