The summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day are among the most dangerous times of the year on our nation's highways. Driving impaired (drunk, drugged, or distracted) poses a risk for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and others sharing the roads.
Over 20 years of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data reveal that nearly half of all deadly traffic crashes on the Fourth of July are the result of impaired driving.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 20.5 million people age 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and 12.6 million drove under the influence of illicit drugs.
In 2018, an average of one alcohol-impaired driving fatality occurred every 50 minutes, which translates to 29 deaths each day. In 2019, South Carolina ranked as the state with the third most drunk driving deaths.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. The 100 Deadliest Days of Driving for teens occurs during these summer months. Twice as many teens die in highway crashes every day compared to the rest of the year (NHTSA). New teen drivers are three times as likely to be involved in a deadly crash (AAA).
Impaired driving crashes are preventable. However, for crashes to be prevented attitudes must change. Only 28% of drivers consider driving under the influence of prescription drugs a very serious threat, 66% of drivers considered driving under the influence of alcohol a very serious threat, and 56% of drivers consider driving under the influence of illicit drugs a very serious threat (AAA).
It is essential that 100% of the public, teens and adults, recognize that driving impaired leads to tragic crashes.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) findings show a higher percentage of young adults, ages 18 to 25, drive after drinking or taking drugs than do adults 26 or older. The use of marijuana, opiates and prescription drugs is increasingly prominent on the highways and, like alcohol, impairs motor skills, judgment and reaction time. If these behaviors do not change, crashes will not be prevented.
Distracted driving - including using a cell phone, texting, adjusting car controls, using a GPS device, or talking to passengers - is just as dangerous as drunk and drugged driving. Too many drivers do not recognize how distracted driving, alcohol use and use of drugs (illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter) can affect driving ability and increase crash risks until it happens to them or someone they know.
Everyone - youths and adults - must be part of the solution in changing attitudes and behaviors about impaired driving.
Let us spread the message about the dangers of drunk, drugged, and distracted driving. Encourage conversations and make responsible decisions to prevent impaired driving fatalities in our community.
The Summer Impaired Driving Campaign message is being promoted by the Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth, a community prevention coalition, serving the Towns of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. For more information visit lcahealthyyouth.com.
Dr. Loretta Novince is a consultant for Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth.