Posted December 10, 2002
IMPAIRMENTS TO HOLIDAY DRIVING
By Chris Huffman, past President of the American Institute for Public Safety
Driving this holiday season can be a killer if you make the choice to drive impaired.
What does the expression “impaired driving” mean? An impaired driver is an individual who is driving without the normal capabilities that drivers are expected to have.
There are six basic causes of impaired driving:
Many younger drivers are unaware or ignorant of how alcohol affects their driving. Many think that in order for driving to be affected you need to see double or be unable to walk straight.
The fact that you’re unaware of how your vision is affected by alcohol makes it especially dangerous to rely on your judgment whether you are impaired or not. You might think you are fine but in reality you are not. Besides your vision, alcohol in the blood and brain affect you motor reactions. You do not have to feel drunk. In fact you can feel quite awake and energetic. Yet, your reaction time has slowed down. If ordinarily you need a quarter of a second to hit the brake, with alcohol in your bloodstream, you might need a full second or possible two seconds. But you don’t give yourself two seconds so you crash into the car ahead of you.
To explain how alcohol affects your driving you need to be aware it does not just include vision and reaction time, but mental judgment as well. The fact is that alcohol disrupts your normal thinking patterns and you are not able to adjust for that. Therefore, you make errors in judgment, errors in thinking, errors of reasoning or figuring out what is going on and what you should do about it.
For example, alcohol in the brain causes the mind to magnify certain things and minimize other things, so essential facts are distorted. You might even talk yourself into thinking you are an exception since “you can hold your liquor” so it is alright to drive. Or you may convince yourself it is OK to drive since the streets are empty and you won’t run into traffic. This is impaired thinking! This can also be an example of denial. And denial – which prevents you from taking corrective action-, can be the greatest impairment of all.
You might think that since everyone else is drinking and driving, you can too. After all, you saw some important people at the party and they were all drinking. So you decide you can too. This is impaired reasoning. Or you might think that since your friends and co-workers are drinking and driving you do not want to put them off by not drinking. This kind of social pressure is even more difficult to resist once you start drinking.
All of these factors combine to increase the probability of a fatal accident due to the consumption of alcohol and driving under its influence.
Fatigue is a major concern for our soldiers while driving. Judgment becomes extremely impaired when driving while fatigued. The decisions made about when to drive are the subject of many “emotionally impaired” decisions. There is a tremendous desire to stay with loved ones until the very last minute and then drive like crazy to get back from leave on time. If you really love her then leave her, on time, so that you can see her again one day.
Increasingly, people are functioning on less sleep and this impairs driver performance, reaction time and response time especially on long stretches of roadway, or areas without much roadside scenery. Driver fatigue due to sleep deprivation is both physical and mental. The biochemical composition of the blood and brain fluids creates an overwhelming desire to close the eyes and fall asleep. The sleep deprived driver maybe even more dangerous than the drunk driver.
Drivers are often poor judges of their own levels of fatigue. Tell-tale signs of driver fatigue and the related impaired driving include: heavy eyelids; day dreaming; varying speeds with no apparent reason; overtaking vehicles causing alarm response in the driver; continual yawning; rash decisions; impatience; vehicle wandering, and misjudging situations or over-correcting/reacting.
How can you prevent driver fatigue? Take frequent breaks when driving on lengthy trips; avoid alcohol or any medications that impair alertness, and travel in a well ventilated vehicle. If you find yourself becoming drowsy roll down your window and let air blow on your face, have a conversation with a passenger, or sing with the radio. Sometimes the most responsible action to take is to pull safely off the road and get some rest. The best prevention for driver fatigue is to get adequate sleep, and reduce energy draining stress.
Make the smart choice this holiday season. Plan your trip using effective time management so that you arrive safely at your destination refreshed and alive.
Alcohol and Fatigue are the two major dangers to safe driving during these holidays. Make a risk assessment of your plans and situations and make emotionally intelligent choices to take appropriate action to save your life and those of your loved ones as well. Take responsibility for your decisions and make the right choices about your driving during the holidays, don’t become a statistic or a memorial service.
Have a safe holiday season and all the best to you and yours in the New Year.
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