Impaired driving is considered one of the most serious types of distracted driving, and in this column, I am going to address technology’s role in curbing drugged driving. Yet, despite the facts and figures, I’m still bewildered by how many people do not believe that drug impairment will lead to distracted driving.
Every year, as my staff and I begin research Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we uncover some of the most horrific tragedies that have taken place in the previous 12 months. Each one seems to be more heart-wrenching than the one before. Perhaps I am just getting more sensitive to people being injured or killed by others negligence that I can’t help be frustrated we aren’t making enough headway to curb this epidemic.
Too often many motorists think they can beat the odds and when they don’t we hear of the tragic story like this one: a woman named Natalie Batcho lost her 9-year-old daughter in 2012 when her family’s minivan was struck by a distracted driver. It was during the holidays, and the family was taking a nice scenic drive to see Christmas lights when a distracted driver ran a red light and t-boned the family’s vehicle.
We haven’t stopped distracted driving as a result of texting, talking, eating, and now we have to add drugged-impaired driving to growing list. Drug-impaired driving isn’t something we covered much in the past. That’s why I stand by my earlier statement that impaired driving is without question one of the most serious types of distracted driving.
Globally, more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of a road traffic accident. A portion of these victims die at the hands of someone who is driving distracted or impaired.
According to the GHSA (Governor’s Highway Safety Assn.), drug-impaired driving is an increasingly critical issue. In 2015, which is the most recent year for which data is available, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.) reports that drugs were present in 43% of fatally injured drivers with a known test result. From all accounts, that’s more frequently than alcohol was present.
So what is changing in society that could be contributing to this reality? Marijuana use is increasing, for one. GHSA says that as of April 2017, marijuana could be used medicinally in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, the recreational use of marijuana is allowed in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, according to the GHSA.
The availability and use of marijuana recreationally and medically has its benefits, but if folks are driving after smoking a joint, it definitely has its downsides as well. My goal is not to pick on marijuana, and, in fact, one of the reasons drug-impaired driving is such a tough issue is because there are simply so many types of drugs. There are hundreds of drugs, some illegal and some perfectly legal, and they all affect people in different ways. So, there’s a lot we don’t know about this issue, but what do we know?
Reports reveal that about 20% of adults between the ages of 18 and 25 use illegal drugs or marijuana at least monthly. For adults who are 26-years-old and above, that percentage drops to about 6%. We’ve also established that even though the effects of drugged driving vary according to the drug, the person, and the situation, impaired driving is dangerous and, unfortunately, fairly common.
This country has done a good job of educating drivers about distracted driving, and the word is getting out; but there I still much more to be done. We need to make drug-impaired driving and distracted driving as socially unacceptable as it has become to drive drunk.
Ford, has done an incredible job of stepping up its effort in this area. Ford, which puts on the “Driving Skills for Life Tour” across the U.S. and 34 other countries, has added a new element to the tour, which it coined a “drugged-driving suit.” The suit simulates what it’s like to drive under the influence of drugs.
And just so we’re on the same page, here’s what we’re up against based on the information provided by Ford. Ford says:
- Cannabis (marijuana) slows a user’s reaction time, negatively affects concentration, and reduces a driver’s ability to steer a vehicle.
- Cocaine causes erratic behavior, as well as a lack of concentration and sleepiness once the initial effects begin to wear off.
- Ecstasy gives users a big adrenaline surge, which can lead to over-confidence in a driver.
- LSD makes it difficult for drivers to judge movement and speed, and it can also cause hallucinations and general confusion.
- Heroin blurs users’ vision, slows their reaction time, and also causes drowsiness and confusion.
Perhaps the most interesting thing here is that Ford’s drugged-driving suit recreates some of the aforementioned effects. The suit features headphones that play background sounds to confuse and distract the wearer.
It has vision-impairment glasses that produce blurred vision, flashing lights, and cause tunnel vision. And then there are a series of bandages that restrict movement of the wearer’s head, arms, legs, and feet. The suit also features a tremor generator that makes the wearer’s hands shake.
At some point I hope to have a chance to check out this drugged-driving suit for myself, because those that have tried it insist that it does have a more realistic attitude about the dangers of driving while impaired.
In the future, we need more and more technology to step up and help in the educational movement even further. Let’s get some really high-quality AR (augmented reality) apps that can take this message to more people in more places. Let’s design more VR (virtual reality) experiences that can put people in the shoes of someone who’s driving drunk, drugged, or otherwise distracted.
Let’s come up with apps that help people be responsible by leveraging biometric data and machine-learning algorithms to deduce whether they’re too high to drive, and then call an Uber for them if they need it.
Let’s eventually get to the point where our vehicles incorporate these types of biometric sensors and algorithms and can safeguard against drunk and drugged driving.
And let’s keep marching forward with autonomous vehicles and other safety measures, because as long as humans are behind the wheel, there just seems to be no escaping we will continue to make deadly distracted-driving mistakes. And sadly that means motorists will continue to put other lives in jeopardy.
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