Driving Under the Influence: What is Impaired Driving?

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Driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, operating while intoxicated, operating vehicle while intoxicated, driving while ability impaired, operating under the influence — these terms and their associated acronyms (DUI, DWI, OWI, OVI, DWAI, OUI) all have similar meanings, but do you know it means to be intoxicated, under the influence of a substance, or to have impaired driving ability?

Each state has its own drunk driving laws, which means the terms have different meanings depending on where you live. They each have their own definitions for “intoxicated” and “impaired.” Let’s break down three causes of impaired driving.

Impaired by Alcohol

Each state has a specified legal limit of alcohol your blood can content before you’re considered driving drunk, or driving under the influence. In most states, the legal limit is under .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Utah’s legal BAC limit is under .05. If you’re pulled over for suspected drunk driving and perform a field test that indicates your BAC exceeds the legal limit, you could be arrested for a DUI.

In most states, you can be charged with drunk driving without putting the car in motion but have physical control of the vehicle. For instance, you may be charged with a DUI if you’re sitting in a parked car with the engine running if your BAC is over the legal limit.

Impaired by Drugs or Medication

Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and you can be charged with a DUI if caught while under the influence of drugs — legal, illegal, prescription or over the counter (OTC).

Drugs and Alcohol Mixed

Often times, drivers who test positive for any kind of illegal, prescription or OTC drugs in their system also test positive for alcohol. Statistics show that 44 percent of drivers involved in fatal car crashes in 2017 tested positive for both drugs and alcohol. Combining alcohol and drugs or using two or more drugs can amplify their effects and increase impairment. The fact is if the drug impairs your ability to drive, an officer has cause to arrest you. Every state has different laws concerning drugged driving.

Legal or Illegal Marijuana

Marijuana is one of the most common drugs found in drivers’ systems and is now legal in several states. However, even in states where marijuana is legal, it’s still illegal to drive under the influence of the drug. Each state sets their own limits for how much THC concentration they allow in your system. For example, in Washington state, you can be arrested for having a THC concentration of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of blood. The same is true in Colorado, but you may also be arrested for a DWAI if the THC concentration is less that 5 nanograms but evidence shows that your driving ability is impaired.

Impaired by Sleep Deprivation

Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk and drugged driving, yet it’s more difficult to regulate and detect. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, drowsiness affects your ability to pay attention to the road, your reaction time for braking or making sudden turns and your decision-making skills. In 2017, 795 people were killed in drowsy-driving-related crashes. And 2013 data shows that there were 72,000 crashes and 44,000 injuries as a result of drowsy driving.

Preventing Impaired Driving

Impaired drivers — from both alcohol and drugs — can’t assess their level of impairment. It’s important to understand that if you feel different, your driving will be different. Commit to driving sober and making a plan to prevent driving while impaired/intoxicated. Driving while impaired or intoxicated to any degree is not only risky to your own personal health and well-being, but also increases the risk of danger to other drivers, passengers and pedestrians who you encounter while on the road. 

If you’re driving and notice the following symptoms, you should find a safe place to pull off the road and rest:

  • Yawning
  • Blinking frequently
  • Drifting
  • Hitting rumble strips

You can prevent drowsy driving by establishing good sleep habits and acknowledging when you’re too tired to drive. If you have a sleep disorder, seek medical advice for treatment options.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI or other impaired driving charge and need an ignition interlock device, Burlington criminal lawyer can help. Our state specialists can help walk you through your state’s requirements.