Health Guide: Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence (DUI) often denotes operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level in excess of the legal limit. Regulations may also include certain types of machinery, such as an airplane, motor boat, moped, or tractor. Law enforcement agencies consider driving under the influence a criminal offense. In fact, most countries strictly punish offenders. In some jurisdictions, convictions may not even include actually driving the vehicle. Offenders may also receive a DUI if under the influence of illegal narcotics or prescription drugs.

Most jurisdictions define a blood alcohol content level in excess of .05 to .08 percent as illegal by default. Some jurisdictions will have steeper consequences for violators with an offense exceeding 0.12 percent. Internationally, impaired driving lead to the injury or death of an individual may result in heavy fines or extended prison sentences. In the United States, some states may impose lighter sentences based upon the blood alcohol concentrated level and type of vehicle used during intoxication.

In the United States, law enforcement agencies conducted 1,467,000 DUI arrests in 1996, which decreased from 1.9 million arrests cited in 1983. In fact, DUI fatalities within the United States have decreased 49 percent since 1982. Underage DUI fatalities have decreased 73 percent, which includes individuals ages 21 and below. In 2008, an estimated 12.4 percent of individuals ages 12 or above sat behind the wheel drunk at some point in one calendar year. In 2009, 10,839 fatalities occurred due to alcohol-related automobile crashes, accounting for nearly 32 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. Narcotics and prescription drugs account for 18 percent of motor vehicle driver deaths. Generally, most of those under the influence of narcotics or prescription drugs also have an excess in alcohol consumption.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 10.8 million underage motorists happen to drink and drive. Over seventy percent of young persons engage in heavy drinking by the age of 19 and 20. About 45 percent of all high school seniors consume alcohol monthly, exceeding alcohol and marijuana combined. Nearly one quarter of all high school students have engaged in binge drinking. Eleven percent of 8 th graders have consumed alcohol on a regular basis. Additionally, an estimated 5,000 people under the age of 21 will die each year due to underage drinking, with 1,900 of those deaths from automobile accidents. Among those tallied deaths, the BAC level of the underage drivers ranged close to 0.40 percent. One in three high school students rode as a passenger in a vehicle steered by an alcohol impaired driver. Underage drivers ranging between 15 and 20 years old have a higher probability of getting involved in an alcohol-related accident than any other age group.

Underage drivers who consume narcotics and prescription drugs also contribute to the increase in automobile-related injuries and deaths. Drugs alter perception, cognition, concentration, coordination, reflexes, and other mental faculties that require safe driving practices. Drug abuse can have a range of effects on various drivers, depending on the amount consumed, the tolerance of the user, and their medical history. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 10.5 million people ages 12 or older have reported driving under the influence of narcotics or prescription drugs in 2009. In 2009, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 tended to have a higher offending rate than other age groups. Males were more likely than females to drive under the influence of narcotics or alcohol in 2009.

Drunk driving has affected numerous lives, including the friends and family members of those injured or killed in alcohol-related deaths. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related accident within their lifetime. These staggering facts and figures have prompted law enforcement agencies and civilian organizations to raise awareness and vigilance to halt alcohol abuse behind he wheel. Many of these organizations will contact the victims of alcohol-related traffic accidents, while others will gladly assist those who reach out for their resources. Some of these civilian organizations include: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Impaired Driving (Drugs and Alcohol), Safety Program, Remove Intoxicated Drivers USA, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Witness Justice. Promoting education and awareness to the general public can help save lives and make the road safer on a yearly basis.

Follow these links for a comprehensive list of resources related to Driving Under the Influence (DUI):

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