Adults and teenagers in the United States are often reminded not to drive impaired. We frequently pass billboards, watch commercials and see other advertisements that all urge people not to operate a vehicle after drinking alcohol or using drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign is an extremely recognizable marketing effort.

Yet even with such a visible message, many people still choose to drive after using substances such as drugs or alcohol.

Each year, National Impaired Driving Prevention Month serves as another reminder of why people shouldn’t risk their life or the lives of others. The awareness campaign started in 1981, and it occurs each December because the National Association of Drug Court Professionals describes the holiday season as one of the deadliest and most dangerous times for drivers and passengers due to the increased number of people who are impaired and operating a vehicle.

December isn’t the only month when people take this risk though. Despite the volume of marketing there is that attempts to prevent impaired driving, operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is still a common year-round occurrence.

Why Do People Drive Drunk?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 10,497 deaths in 2016 due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20.7 million Americans ages 16 and up said they drove under the influence of alcohol at least once within the previous year and 11.8 million Americans said they drove under the influence of illicit drugs.

Even if the statistics suggest otherwise, many teenagers and adults do understand the risks associated with impaired driving. They know that impaired driving is one of the leading causes of deaths in the country. They understand that the act is not only dangerous but illegal and even if they don’t get into an accident or injury, they can still be arrested.

However, many of those same people who understand the risks will still turn on their carsand take off after a few drinks. Some of the specific reasons people get behind the wheel after consuming drugs or alcohol — even when they know doing so is irresponsible and illegal — include:

  • Being unaware of how intoxicated or high they are
  • Believing they can safely drive despite their impairment
  • Thinking they will not get caught by law enforcement
  • Not wanting to leave their vehicle overnight at an unusual location, perhaps in large part due to the inconvenience of having to get it the next day
  • Wanting to be somewhere by a specific time, or to return home immediately

All of these explanations for wanting to drive are influenced by the effects of drinking alcohol or using drugs on a person’s decision-making skills. If someone is sober, they’ll quickly tell others and themselves that impaired driving is a poor decision and can refute in logical ways all of the reasons listed above. If that same person is drunk or high, their mind is affected and they might have a different perspective or thought process.

How to Avoid Impaired Decision-Making Moments

Despite the fact that drugs or alcohol can cause people to defy their sober senses, there are ways to prepare lack of reasoning that intoxicated people develop while they drink. Understanding the risks associated with impaired driving — and knowing why a person might choose to drive drunk or high — means people should be proactive in preventing their own poor choices or that of their friends.

By planning ahead, people can remain focused on making sensible decisions.

Schedule a Ride From Uber, Lyft or a Taxi

Smartphone apps have made avoiding driving much easier. Within seconds, people can request an Uber or a Lyft to take them anywhere they need. These apps also allow people to schedule rides days in advance. The pickup time is a 10- or 15-minute window, depending on the app used. Taxicab companies provide the same service.

If you are going to a social event where alcohol or recreational party drugs will be available, consider scheduling a Lyft or Uber for whenever you want to head home. Do the same if you are taking a prescription drug and need to run an errand or go to an event soon after using the medication. Deciding how you’ll commute and adjusting your plans accordingly while still sober is  intelligent and responsible.

Make Plans for a Sober Driver

One of the most popular plans for a group of friends who are going out drinking involves designating a sober driver. This person enjoys the night while staying sober to ensure the safety of themselves and their friends. Handling this role might seem bland, but doing so can save lives.

Even if you drove by yourself to a social gathering that involves friends, reach out before you begin drinking to someone and see if they can provide you a ride to your next destination. Establishing a sober driver ahead of time is another example of being proactive and making a sober decision rather than an impaired one.

Give Your Keys to a Friend

Before you begin drinking alcohol, hand your car keys to a trusted friend who will remain sober. Ask your sober friend to hold onto your keys until they are certain that you’re sober enough to drive. Doing so will ensure that either you will manage your substance use or will find alternative transportation to your next party destination, or back home.

If you are the sober one and your friend is drunk or high, do the same courtesy for them. Request that you hold onto their keys, even if it aggravates your friend. The alternative, them driving impaired and possibly hurting themselves or others, is much worse.

Recognizing When a Substance Use Disorder Is Present

Avoiding impaired driving can require a decision before substance use ever begins. Options are available and, along with being safer, these alternatives to driving impaired are much easier to implement than you might think. Starting with this year’s National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, strive to be proactive in your approach to your end-of-the-night commute.

If choosing whether or not to drive impaired is a frequent decision for you or a loved one, then a deeper issue might be present. Regularly being too drunk or high to make sensible decisions about your safety or the safety of others can be a sign of a substance use disorder. Some people have a chemical and psychological desire to use substances and they can spend large parts of their days affected by drugs or alcohol, which can make fulfilling daily plans or commutes difficult unless they drive impaired.

If you or someone you know has spoken about how often they drive impaired, consider seeking medical assistance to uncover whether an addiction is present. The Recovery Village has representatives available to answer any questions related to substance use and the signs of addiction. Call today to take the first step toward healing from substance use disorder and prevent future instances of driving impaired.