Driving Under the Influence … It’s Not Just Alcohol

Is taking a prescription or over-the-counter medication as dangerous as drinking alcohol combined with driving?

  • Safe driving requires precise skills, clear judgment, concentration, and ability to react to what happens on the road.
  • Drugs affect all of these skills, and not just illegal drugs. Prescription drugs and even over the counter medicines can affect your driving skills if you don’t follow instructions or your doctor’s advice.
  • Taking drugs of any kind and then driving puts you at greater risk of injuring or killing yourself, your friends or other innocent people.
  • Not taking your medication correctly can also be of concern. EXAMPLE: Diabetics can have sudden bouts of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, which leads to confusion, delayed reaction, visual disturbances or loss of consciousness.

When taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, consult with your doctor or pharmacist before driving.

Visit fda.gov for more information on Medications and Driving.

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Painkillers on the Job

Enough prescription painkillers were provided in 2010 to medicate every American around the clock for an entire month.

CONCLUSION: This means that at any given time, many employees may be using prescription painkillers on the job.

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  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the number of prescription medicine abusers in 2014 was 6.5 million.
  • Be alert to potential drug use and abuse in the workplace, and use the channels provided by your employer to get help for yourself or a coworker.
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The Two Faces of Prescription Drugs

Prescription medications are helpful in the right doses, at the right time, and when the user is aware of all potential side effects.

  • What’s the other side of prescription medication?

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  • Dependency and then addiction can occur, especially to pain medication.
  • Abuse can occur, especially with pain medication. The abuser can be the person who holds the prescription, or someone in the household who is stealing the medication for recreational use.
    • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the number of prescription medicine abusers in 2014 was 6.5 million.
    • Several factors have contributed to the severity of prescription drug abuse, including: drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written, greater social acceptance of using medications, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
  • Potential overdoses are a risk associated with any prescription medication.
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Stop a Friend or Colleague from Driving Impaired

If you’ve ever been out with colleagues after work, or to a party or wedding or other event where alcohol is served, you may have been in a situation where you tried to stop an impaired person from getting behind the wheel.

What did you do? Did it work?

In the situation where a colleague might be impaired and inclined to drive, do your best to keep that person from getting behind the wheel. Try these things:

  • Drive him or her yourself (only if you have not been drinking).
  • Call a cab (or Uber or Lyft).
  • Spend the night and leave in the morning.
  • Call a sober friend or family member to take them home.
  • Plan ahead if you and colleagues/friends plan to drink. Designate a sober driver beforehand, plan to call a cab or someone you trust to pick you up, or plan to spend the night where you are.
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How Much is Too Much?

How much alcohol is too much?

ANSWER

There is no single answer to this question that applies to everyone.

  • Your gender, body weight, the number and types of drinks you’ve consumed, and the amount of food you’ve eaten all affect your body’s ability to process alcohol.
  • Women, young people and small people become impaired with small amounts of alcohol.
  • In Texas, drivers are legally intoxicated and can be arrested and charged with a DWI with a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Commercial drivers are legally intoxicated and can be arrested and charged with a DWI with a .04 blood alcohol concentration. However – driving ability can be impaired below the legal alcohol limit.
  • Even if a driver registers less than the legal limit, an arrest still can be made based on the observations of the officer during a roadside sobriety check.
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I’m a Shift Worker … I Can’t Help Being Sleepy!

Many of us are in jobs where our shifts rotate from day to night, or where we work second or third shift regularly.

  • What strategies can you use to drive safety to and from work if you’re a shift worker?

ANSWERS

You can take effective steps to reduce your risks.

  • Make it a priority to get good sleep by creating a quiet, cool, dark environment, allowing sufficient time for sleep, and trying to sleep during the same hours each day.
  • Another strategy is to avoid driving home from work while sleepy. Get a ride from a family member, take a cab.
  • Nap before heading home.
  • Consume caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee to help improve alertness for a short period.
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Checklist for Drowsy Driving

Look for the warning signs of drowsy driving.

  • You can’t stop yawning.
  • Your eyelids droop or blink frequently.
  • You have trouble keeping your eyes open and focused especially at stoplights.
  • Your mind wanders or you have disconnected thoughts. You can’t remember driving the last few miles.
  • Your driving becomes sloppy—you weave between lanes, tailgate or miss traffic signals.
  • You hit rumble strips or grooves in the road. If you hit a rumble strip…it is a sure sign that you need to pull off the road immediately and get some sleep!

What do you do if any of these are true? Do this.

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Causes of Drowsy Driving

In 60 seconds, list all of the reasons you can think of that can cause a driver to be sleepy behind the wheel. There are several—how many can you identify?

ANSWERS

Factors that increase the risk of drowsy-driving include:

  • Sleep loss (ex: chronic sleepiness, acute sleep loss)
  • Sleep-restrictive work patterns such as night shifts, overtime, and rotating shifts
  • Change in driving patterns, such as changing the time of day or amount of time spent driving
  • Use of Sedating Medications, either prescriptions or recreational drugs
  • Untreated Sleep Disorders such as Sleep Apnea Syndrome and Narcolepsy
  • Consumption of alcohol, which increases drowsiness and impairment
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Drowsy Driving Accidents

Where do the majority of drowsy-driving crashes occur?

  1. On dark rural highways with little to no street lighting.
  2. On highways and major roadways with speed limits of 55 to 65 mph.
  3. On urban highway exchanges with several lanes and exits.

ANSWER: 2.

  • Drowsy-driving crashes more often take place on highways and major roadways with speed limits of 55 to 65 mph.
  • Fall-asleep crashes are likely to be serious.
  • The majority of drowsy-driving crashes involve drivers alone in the vehicle.
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Things that WON’T Keep You Awake

It happens to just about everyone: You’re driving late at night, or you’re on a long driving stint, or you only got a couple hours sleep last night.

  • What did you do the last time you got sleepy at the wheel? Did it work for you?

You may have listed some of these…but these things will not keep you awake while driving:

  • Turning the volume up on the radio
  • Singing loudly
  • Chewing gum or eating
  • Getting out of the car and running around
  • Slapping yourself
  • Sticking your head out the window

What to do instead:

  • Stop driving. Pull over to a rest stop and sleep!
  • If no rest stop or exit is near, safely pull over to the side of the road, turn on your hazard lights, and take a short nap of 15 to 20 minutes, then proceed to the nearest exit or rest stop to more fully rest.
  • Napping + consuming caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee can keep you alert enough get you to a place to rest.
  • Let a passenger drive while you sleep.
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