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Preventing Impaired Driving This New Year

Intelligence Specialist Seaman Cory Bottie, assigned to Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, Virginia Capes, tries to stay on the road while driving a simulator during the Save a Life Tour. The Save a Life Tour visited the facility with a realistic drunk driving simulator to demonstrate the dangers of driving under the influence. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Terah L. Mollise/Released)

By Dr. Mark Long, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center; Mike Aukerman, Lead Alcohol Program Analyst, Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention; and Lanorfeia Parker, Deputy Director, Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention

Everywhere we turn, we see and hear messages encouraging us not to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We know not to do it, and yet it still seems to happen. You might tell yourself you haven’t really had that much to drink, or perhaps you don’t want to leave your car in a bar parking lot all night. No matter what the voice inside your head might tell you, it is not worth the risk of putting your life, your career, and others in danger.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to avoid impaired driving, and that is to plan ahead. If you know you are going to drink alcohol or take medication that interferes with your judgment and/or motor skills, make arrangements in advance so that you do not have to drive.

Creating a Plan: How to Avoid Impaired Driving

Drivers with blood alcohol content of .08 or above are considered too drunk to drive in every state. You may reach this limit faster than you think. Even one drink could affect your ability to drive safely and react in time—especially if you haven’t eaten in a few hours. The best practice is to not drink at all if you are driving, or create a plan that keeps you from driving if you plan to drink or take medication. Below are some helpful tips to prevent impaired driving:

  • Take a cab to the party, or have a friend or family member drop you off. Without access to your car, you will be far less likely to drive home.

  • Appoint a trusted Designated Driver (DD) in advance. That way, the DD can prepare him or herself not to drink at all. Remember to give the DD possession of the car keys before going out. This helps ensure that the DD is the only one equipped to drive and eliminates the DD from any hassles or awkward conversations later in the night.

  • Look out for your shipmates and take turns being the DD each month.

  • Make arrangements for a cab or friend to pick you up at a predetermined time. 

  • Save the phone numbers of several cab companies into your phone’s contact list, or write them down, before heading out.

Dangers of Drugged Driving

Most Sailors are familiar with the dangers of drunk driving—and even distracted driving—but few think about the less common but very real dangers of drugged driving. Drugs, even those prescribed by a doctor, can impair perception, judgment, motor skills, and memory. There are three general classes of drugs that can impair driving:

  • Schedule I controlled substances—chemicals that are commonly abused and lack approved medical uses by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) such as heroin, LSD (Acid), marijuana, and MDMA (Ecstasy) are listed as Schedule I by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

  • The second class of drugs that can impair driving is comprised of prescription medicines that characteristically are sedating, such as depressants. These are medicines that have approved medical uses, but have potential for abuse and misuse. Those that have abuse potential are typically Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances.

  • The third group of drugs that can impair driving are over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as cough syrup or nighttime sleep aids. These may cause sedation but are not typically subject to abuse.

Approximately one-third of states have adopted what’s known as the “per se standard,” meaning that any detectable amount of a controlled substance in a driver's body constitutes per se evidence of a violation of "drugged driving", including the nonmedical use of prescription drugs. This is in line with the Navy’s zero tolerance policy for drug use, and serves as a strong deterrent against drugged driving.

Although prescription medication can be a safe, legal method of treating injury and illness, improper use of prescription drugs is illegal, dangerous, and in some cases, deadly. This includes mixing certain prescription drugs with alcohol and driving while under the influence of heavy prescription drugs, such as painkillers, sedatives and depressants. Talk to your doctor and Command alcohol and drug abuse prevention personnel to learn about how over-the-counter and prescription drugs might affect your ability to drive or operate machinery at work, and whether the medication is safe to take in combination with alcohol.

Available Resources

To learn more about how to prevent impaired driving, please visit the following resources. If you think you may be struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, or if drinking interferes with your work and/or relationships, visit the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program located at your base’s clinic or military treatment facility. For more information, contact your base Alcohol and Drug Control Officer.

  • The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s Health Promotion and Wellness Campaign is committed to providing Sailors and Marines with the tools they need to drink responsibly, use prescription medications safely, and prevent impaired driving.
  • The Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention’s Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign includes tips on how to prevent impaired driving.