Impaired Driving

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Alcohol-Related Impaired Driving

How alcohol affects driving ability?

 

 

Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination.[1] All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely.

As alcohol levels rise in a person’s system, the negative effects on the central nervous system increase. Alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. Then it passes into the bloodstream where it accumulates until it is metabolized by the liver. A person's alcohol level is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC. At a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, crash risk increases exponentially. Because of this risk, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher,

However, even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability. BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, or by a blood test.

 

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What Counts as Impaired Driving?

Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (cars, trucks, vessels, snowmobiles, aircraft, commercial motor vehicles, and off-road vehicles) while the driver’s ability to do so has been compromised to any degree by consuming alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.

Alcohol, even one drink, can reduce your ability to react to things that happen suddenly.  Alcohol-impaired driving is one of the leading causes of death. Safe driving requires alertness and the ability to make quick decisions in a rapidly changing situation. Drinking alcohol can have a profound effect on driving skills. The effects of alcohol may cause drowsiness to occur, blurred or double vision, impaired attention, and slowed reflexes. Drinking alcohol and other impairing drugs can reduce the essential skills needed to drive safely.

Judgment Judgment is a brain-centered activity that stores experiences and knowledge so it can be used quickly when you face a new problem. Alcohol and other impairing drugs affect those areas of your brain that controls judgment to make rational decisions. This is one reason why drinking alcohol and taking certain types of drugs are so dangerous.

Vision – The most important sense you use in driving is vision. Alcohol and certain drugs can blur your vision, slow your ability to focus, and cause double vision. Your vision helps you to determine how far away an object is and the object’s relationship to your path of travel. Alcohol and other impairing drugs reduce the ability to judge distance, speed, and other vehicles’ movement. With increasing impairment, you could drift across the centerline, wander from lane to lane, or even run off the roadway. Vision is affected for all drivers at a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as low as .08 g/dl (0.08%). 

 

Color DistinctionA lot of the information you receive on the roadway is from different colors such as traffic signs, signals, and roadway markings. Alcohol and other impairing drugs reduce your ability to distinguish colors, which can be very dangerous.

 

Reaction TimeAlcohol and other impairing drugs slows your ability to process information and respond to critical driving tasks. Alcohol and impairing drugs make you drowsy and less alert of your surroundings.

If you drink alcohol or use other impairing drugs and drive, even a little, your chances of being in a collision are much greater than if you did not drink any alcohol or use any other drugs. If you are younger than 18 it is illegal to purchase, and drink alcoholic beverages in the US Virgin Islands. Alcohol and other impairing drugs affect a person’s ability to perceive surroundings, react to emergencies and skillfully operate a motor vehicle. For new drivers learning complex skills, the effects of alcohol and other impairing drugs are greater.

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Information in this table shows the BAC level at which the effect usually is first observed and has been gathered from a variety of sources including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the American Medical Association, and www.webMD.com.

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In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the legal age for purchase and consume alcoholic beverages is 18. Proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it is always a good idea to bring ID when you go out. Although 18-year-olds can purchase, drink, and order alcohol within the territory, they cannot transport bottles back to the United States with them. If an attempt is made, the alcohol will be confiscated at the U.S. Customs check point. 

 

The U.S. Virgin Islands Code- Title 20 - Highways and Motor Vehicles Part II - Motor Vehicles Chapter 43 - Regulation of Traffic

 

$485. Selling or serving alcoholic beverages to minors; employing minors to make or dispense alcoholic beverages.

 

The Virgin Islands Code prohibits the sale of alcohol or tobacco to any person under the age of eighteen (18).  One problem that continues to exist in the Virgin Islands stems from persons who purchase alcohol for minors. This may include an older sibling, a family member, or an adult friend of the minor. This issue poses the greatest challenge to combat.

 

$493. Driving under the influence of intoxicating liquors or controlled substances; violations; penalties.

 

If your BAC is .08 g/dl (0.08%) or higher you are in violation of the law if you drive. If you are arrested for drinking and driving, the penalties are severe. If you have a Blood Alcohol Concentration/Content (BAC) of .08 or higher, your driver’s license and driving privileges may be suspended. If you are under 18, you can also be arrested for alcohol impairment at .08% g/dl. Even with levels under .08, you are still impaired.

 

Many drugs, even those prescribed by a doctor or purchased over the counter, can impair your ability to drive safely. For example, smoking, vaping, or cannabis can increase your risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. If you are unsure of whether it is safe for you to drive while taking your medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

 

Under the law you can still be convicted for driving impaired. A BAC test measures how much alcohol is in your system and is usually determined by a breath test. A blood or urine test may also be required. You are required to take a BAC test if asked by a police officer due to implied consent laws. The implied consent law is based on the principle that when you get your driver’s license you have implicitly consented to a lawfully requested test to determine the alcohol content of the blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substance if suspected of impaired driving. If you are found guilty of an alcohol violation and it is your first conviction, you will be fined plus court costs and your license could be suspended. For second and subsequent convictions, the penalties are much worse. You could be sentenced to jail and your license could be suspended.

(a)

  1. It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance included in Schedule I, II, III, IV, or V of Section 595, Chapter 29, Title 19, Virgin Islands Code, or under the combined influence of an intoxicating liquor and such a controlled substance, to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of, any motor vehicle within the Territory.

 

  1. It is unlawful for any person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of, any motor vehicle within the Territory.

(b)

  1. Any person convicted of a first violation of subsection (a) hereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by a fine of not less than three hundred dollars, or by both. Provided, however, if the person was involved in an accident violating subsection (a), the minimum fine shall not be less than five hundred dollars.

 

  1. Any person convicted of violating subsection (a) hereof after having been convicted of such a violation within the previous ten years shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than 48 consecutive hours and not more than two years and by a fine of not more than $2,000. However, if the person was involved in an accident while violating subsection (a), the minimum fine that must be assessed under this paragraph is $600. In lieu of the minimum imprisonment term specified above, a court may require a person to perform not less than ten days of community service under the direction and supervision of the Police Commissioner under such terms and conditions as the court may specify. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, including chapters 313, 405 and 407 of Title 5, Virgin Islands Code, the imposition of the minimum imprisonment term or community service as specified above shall not be suspended and no person subject to the minimum imprisonment term or community service as specified above shall be placed on probation until such imprisonment or community service has been served or carried out.

 

If a person violates this section, the court may order a presentence screening of the person based upon the person's blood alcohol level at the time of his arrest, his prior alcohol-related convictions, a self-administered questionnaire, and a diagnostic assessment by health officials.

 

Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink.  The amount of liquid in your glass, can, or bottle does not necessarily match up to how much alcohol is in your drink.  Different types of beer, wine, or malt liquor can have very different amounts of alcohol content. For example, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer – about 85% as much.   Here is another way to put it:

 

  1. Regular beer: 5% alcohol content

  2. Some light beers: 4.2% alcohol content

 

That is why it is important to know how much alcohol your drink contains.  In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

 

  1. 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol.

  2. 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol.

  3. 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol.

 

How do you know how much alcohol is in your drink?

 

Even though they come in different sizes, the drinks below are each example of one standard drink:

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It is difficult to keep track of how much you are drinking because:

 

  1. glass sizes differ from place to place.

  2. different types of drinks contain different amounts of pure alcohol.

  3. sometimes drinks are mixed with unknown quantities of alcohol, such as in cocktails and alcoholic punches.

  4. sometimes jugs and casks are shared.

  5. glasses may be 'topped up' before they are empty.

Some of these problems can be overcome by using a standard measure of the amount of alcohol that is being drunk, called a "standard drink".

 

 Young People

  • At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people.  ​

  • Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes in 2016, nearly three in 10 were between 25 and 34 years of age (27%). The next two largest groups were ages 21 to 24 (26%) and 35 to 44 (22%).  

 

Motorcyclists:

  1. Among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2016, 25% had BACs of 0.08% or greater.

 

  1. Motorcyclists ages 35-39 have the highest percentage of deaths with BACs of 0.08% or greater (38% in 2016).

 

Drivers with prior Driving Under the Influence (DUI) convictions:

  1. Drivers with a BAC of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have a prior conviction for DUI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system. (9% and 2%, respectively).1

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Effective measures include:

  • Actively enforcing existing 0.08% BAC laws, minimum legal drinking age laws, and zero tolerance laws for drivers younger than 18 years old.

  • Utilizing sobriety checkpoints.

  • Putting health promotion efforts into practice that influence economic, organizational, policy, and school/community action

  • Using community-based approaches to alcohol control and DUI prevention.

 

Getting Involved- How can you save a life, avoid crashes, and prevent serious injuries?

 

Being A Responsible Driver Is Simple: If You Are Drinking, Do Not Drive.

 

Here are some effective measures that can help prevent injuries and deaths from alcohol-impaired driving.

 

  1. Never let friends or relatives drive if they have been drinking.

  2. If a friend or relative has been drinking, take his/her keys away arrange for a driver who has not been drinking call a cab; or have them stay overnight.

  3. Always wear your seat belt it is your best defense against impaired drivers.

  4. If you are hosting a party where alcohol will be served, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.

  5. There is no way to get all the alcohol or other drugs out of the circulatory system in order to become sober quickly.

  6. Coffee, fresh air, cold showers or eating will not help to remove the alcohol or other drug combination from the circulatory system.

 

Time is the only medically proven method to remove alcohol or other drug combinations from the circulatory system. It takes about an hour for the body to get rid of one standard drink from the circulatory system. Therefore, if someone has had four standard drinks, the person should wait four hours or more before driving.

 

Keep in mind that “sober” means that no alcohol or other impairing drugs are in the circulatory system of the body. The best advice is to not drive a vehicle of any kind if alcohol or other drugs are consumed. Impairment starts with the first drink. Even one drink of alcohol can affect a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. With one or more drinks in the bloodstream a person could be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

 

If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact local law enforcement. Your actions could help save someone’s life.

 

Every day, about 28 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes, that is, one person every 52 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA)[1]. In 2020, the US Virgin Islands experienced one (1) impaired driving fatality and twenty-five (25) impaired driving-related injuries compared to the 10,142 people who lost their lives in the US. These deaths and injuries were all preventable. 

 

How big Is the problem?

 

Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely.  As alcohol levels rise in a person’s system, the negative effects on the central nervous system increase. Alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. Then it passes into the bloodstream where it accumulates until it is metabolized by the liver. A person's alcohol level is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC. At a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, crash risk increases exponentially.  The chart below represents impaired driving crashes from 2015- 2020.

Impaired motorists are a concern for law enforcement as alcohol increases the risk of crashes, fatalities, and serious injuries. The chart below represents impaired-driving related injuries from 2015- 2020.

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Driving after drinking is deadly. Yet, it continues to happen throughout the motoring community. Driving while impaired could get you arrested, or worse, involved in a traffic crash that causes serious injury or death. Approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the Virgin Islands involve drunk drivers (with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher). Impaired driving fatalities are represented in the chart below from 2015-2020.

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Driving a vehicle while impaired is a dangerous crime. Tough enforcement of drunk-driving laws has been a major factor in reducing drunk-driving deaths since the 1980s[1]. Charges range from misdemeanors to felony offenses, and penalties for impaired driving can include driver’s license revocation, expensive fines, and jail time.

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A host of effective strategies can be used to help address alcohol-impaired driving. These include strengthening impaired driving laws and enforcement efforts, education and awareness campaigns, and the use of technology (e.g., ignition interlocks) to prevent impaired drivers from operating vehicles. All states have laws against driving while impaired. Some states are using strategies, such as sobriety checkpoints, to further discourage impaired driving. Some are using campaigns such as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” and “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving,” which combine increased enforcement efforts with advertising. The advertising is used to discourage impaired driving by making motorists aware that it is socially unacceptable, and they can be pulled over and arrested for driving while impaired.

 

Other strategies that can help address the problem include:

  • High visibility enforcement

  • Prompt license revocation or suspension

  • License plate or registration confiscation

  • Vehicle impoundment or immobilization

  • Designated driver programs

  • Alcohol server training programs

  • Courts that address driving while intoxicated/driving under the influence repeat offenders through sanctions combined with drug and alcohol testing, treatment, and follow-up care and monitoring.

 

NHTSA provides statistics about impaired driving, materials for campaigns against impaired driving, and case studies of effective practices to stop impaired driving.

 

NHTSA’s Countermeasures That Work report assists state highway safety offices in selecting science-based traffic safety countermeasures for major highway safety problem areas, including impaired driving.

 

The Guide to Community Preventative Services website includes resources about interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving.

 

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) addresses the issue of driving while impaired, maintains up-to-date charts of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving laws and all state highway safety laws, discusses strategies for prevention of impaired driving and enforcement of laws, and sets a policy on impaired driving.

 

The CDC’s Injury Prevention & Control, Motor Vehicle Safety website includes resources on topics ranging from safety for older adult drivers to safety for pedestrians and motorcycle safety. It also has state data, cost, and policy information. Within that website are the CDC’s Motor Vehicle Safety Costs pages, which include information on cost data and prevention policies. CDC Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety - Impaired Driving includes data and statistics for crashes involving impaired drivers, research, and policy recommendations, including a CDC/NHTSA evaluation.

 

Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD) is the nation’s largest nonprofit working to protect families from impaired driving and underage drinking. MADD also supports impaired driving victims and survivors.