Until very recently, “Impaired Driving” was often interpreted as “Drunk Driving” or “driving under the influence of alcohol”. I think it means a lot more than that and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agrees. According to their website, they state:
“Impaired driving is dangerous and is the cause of more than half of all car crashes. It means operating a motor vehicle while: affected by alcohol; affected by illegal or legal drugs; too sleepy; distracted, such as using a cell phone or texting; having a medical condition which affects your driving.”
Where I disagree is their inclusion of “distracted driving.” I think they chose to include it since the driver could be suffering from “inattention blindness” where their mind is so hopelessly preoccupied that they don’t recognize traffic signals and conditions properly.
I feel that there is a fundamental difference between distracted driving and impaired driving:
- Distracted drivers are fully capable of driving well, but choose to ignore their duty to drive properly
- Truly impaired drivers incapable of driving well because they’re tired, drugged, drunk or ill, but choose to drive anyway
In reality, neither should get behind the wheel, and both choose to endanger themselves and other drivers.
Driving presents a unique challenge each time we get behind the wheel. To be ready to handle the dynamic situations we’ll encounter when driving, we ought to be in top condition.
Our bodies and minds can be affected by a wide range of factors: being tired; being physically ill; suffering from allergies; coping with chronic physical conditions; taking over the counter medications; drinking alcohol; smoking marijuana; taking prescription medications or abusing illicit drugs.
These factors most commonly contribute to collisions by impairing the driver’s judgment and/or reaction times.
The universal precaution for impaired driving is to avoid becoming impaired in the first place. This may translate into getting enough sleep and eating a proper diet to avoid fatigue, getting a flu shot annually to lessen the impact of symptoms, avoiding the intake of alcohol or other “recreational” drugs such as marijuana, or asking extra questions of the doctor and pharmacist when dealing with prescribed medications for illnesses or chronic conditions.
For regulated drivers (i.e. those subject to FMCSRs), physical or medical qualification is an important aspect of becoming and remaining qualified to drive. For most regulated drivers, this translates to visiting the doctor for a physical once every two years (or more frequently depending on your condition and the doctor’s findings). In some cases, a failure to meet the minimum requirements (or any discovered fraud surrounding these issues) could lead to disqualification. On November 30, 2012, the FMCSA issued a press release (Link) stating that it had ordered a driver to cease driving “due to his failure to exercise an appropriate duty of care to the motoring public regarding his medical conditions.”
The FMCSA placed the driver out of service “…after agency investigators found serious safety concerns surrounding his medical condition and qualifications under his commercial driver’s license (CDL) issued by the State of Georgia.”
Specifically, “…Investigators discovered that Felton failed to disclose to a medical examiner his disqualifying medical conditions, including his medications prescribed in treating those conditions.”
The news release concludes with this message;
“This case sends a clear message that we will use every tool at our disposal to identify and remove from our roads unsafe operators,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “Our agency is committed to raising the bar for commercial vehicle and driver safety.”
This month’s Ten-Minute Training Topic is on Impaired Driving and includes a driver handout, manager’s supplemental report, and a pair of slideshows to facilitate educational opportunities with drivers. This is distributed to all of the supervisors who receive monthly summary reporting through our Safety Hotline program — in place at more than 3,800 active clients and covering about a quarter million commercial vehicles.
We’ll also be looking at individual forms of impairment more closely through our blog site over the next several weeks.