Impaired Driving

Impaired driving is preventable.

Drivers can choose to drive sober, get plenty of rest and pay attention.

Impaired drivers risk killing and injuring themselves and their passengers. They also put everyone on the road in danger. The best defense against impaired drivers is wearing a seat belt.

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Drinking often leads to bad decisions. It kind of has a reputation for that. Why? Well, combine lower inhibitions – with reduced coordination and a feeling of overconfidence and you have a recipe for regret in the morning. Now, put those feelings behind the wheel of a car. That’s a recipe for disaster.  

Impairment is a diminished ability to drive, which can be caused by
Drinking and Driving, Drugged Driving, Distracted Driving, & Drowsy Driving.

The four “Ds” can be deadly. Statistics show a third of deaths being attributable to alcohol. Distracted driving fatalities increase annually. While researchers are studying the best ways to get identifiable and conclusive data on drugged and drowsy driving, both are responsible for thousands of lives lost each year on our nation’s roads. Scroll down to learn more, or click to skip ahead. 

Digital Town Hall Results

In December 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam established an Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety that was charged with reducing the rising number of fatalities on Virginia’s roadways. Using this very site, Virginians were invited to participate in the YourSayVA Digital Town Hall on Distracted Driving by taking an anonymous survey. 

The  purpose of the online survey was to allow Virginians to share their thoughts on distracted driving and other unsafe driving behaviors with the Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety. Respondents totaled 2084 persons during December 2018.

A select portion of the results are below, but the full-report can be viewed here (PDF).

  • When asked to select the most serious risky behavior 49.2% of respondents identified distracted driving
  • 24.2% identified drunk driving.
  • 93.3% of all respondents indicated that distracted driving is a very serious or serious problem
  • When asked how often respondents used a phone while driving, 13.5% indicated frequent or moderate use. Only 21.7% stated they never use a phone while driving
  • 70.1% of respondents indicated that, as a passenger, they had asked a driver to put a phone away while driving

Why do you think people interact
(text, email, use apps) with phones while driving?

A common theme appeared to be a belief by respondents that drivers were addicted to phone use and felt impelled to interact with their phones while driving, and that time was critical to that interaction.

A compounding factor that did not appear in the word cloud but was articulated in many responses was the influence of an auditory cue.

If you talk on or use your phone in any way (either handheld or hands‐free) while driving, what would influence you to stop?

The most common theme was related to external influences, primarily through law enforcement and corresponding consequences. Another external influence that was mentioned was technological, such as disabling phones in vehicles.

Self‐guided influences included the potential for being involved in a crash and the safety of others. This includes a nuanced view of safety related to traffic or weather conditions.

If you talk on or use your phone in any way (either handheld or hands‐free) while driving, what would influence you to stop?

The most commonly used words by respondents were related to family and included “family”, “children/kids/child/son/daughter”, “spouse/wife/husband/significant”, “parents/mother/father” and “grandchildren/grandkids”. Other high‐use terms included “driver/self” and “passengers”, followed by “anyone”, “officer”, “employer/boss” and “killed”.

The single overwhelming theme is that respondents consider family members to have the greatest influence on their driving behavior related to phone use.

What are three words you would use
to describe the act of driving distracted?

The most commonly used words by respondents to describe distracted driving were “dangerous”, “selfish”, “stupid”, and “irresponsible” which were representative of almost all words in the cloud. Other high‐use terms included “careless”, “deadly”, “reckless”, “inconsiderate”, and “dumb”.

The single overwhelming theme is that respondents generally identified strong negative descriptors for the act of driving distracted.

YourSayVA Distracted Driving - Word Cloud 4

Your voice matters

Be on the look out for more #YourSayVA Digital Town Halls in the future. In the meantime, download the complete report below


Alcohol-related fatalities have fallen by 37% in the last three decades in Virginia.

However, the chance of being in an alcohol-related crash is one in six over the course of a lifetime.

These deaths cost residents of the Commonwealth $404 million per year.

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In 2016, 33 percent of all traffic fatalities were alcohol-related in Virginia; 243 of 2016’s 741 fatalities were alcohol-related.
28 people die in drunk driving crashes every day in the U.S., or one every 51 minutes.
A DUI in Virginia is estimated to cost between $5,000 and $20,000.
All drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher are driving under the influence (DUI). Drivers under age 21 can be convicted of illegal consumption of alcohol with a BAC of .02 to less than .08.
First-time offenders lose their driver’s license for a year and have a mandatory ignition interlock device when they begin driving again. A three-year driver’s license suspension occurs after a second conviction, and 20 days in jail is required for a third conviction within five years.
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Drunk driving is deadly, and so is driving after consuming a small amount of alcohol.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a .02% BAC results in a decline in visual function, an inability to multi-task and some loss of judgement.

At a .05% BAC, drivers experience reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering and a reduced response to emergency situations.


Driving after taking certain medications and all illegal drugs is risky and can cause traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

Drivers cannot judge their own level of impairment after smoking marijuana or taking other illegal drugs, so any amount of consumption puts them and others at risk.

Those who drive high on drugs could get a DUI.

Law enforcement officers across Virginia are trained to recognize drugged drivers. According to a recent roadside study by the National Highway Traffic Administration, one in four drivers on America’s roads tested positive for at least one drug that impacts safety

Drugged Driving Resources:

Prescription Medications and Driving

If drivers take over-the-counter medications and/or prescriptions, they must first learn how they could impact their driving ability. Drivers should:

Drugged Driving - Family Meeting

Read all labeling.

Drugged Driving - Doctor

Discuss  impacts on driving with your doctor

Drugged Driving - Glass of Beer

Never combine alcohol or  drugs with medicine

Drugged Driving - Pills in Hand

Ensure your physicians know everything you are taking


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While a driver is distracted, he or she may not be able to react to a changing environment.

The driver loses precious seconds before recognizing the situation and must make an emergency maneuver. The three basic types of distracted driving are mechanical, visual and cognitive. All types increase crash risk.

Visual: During visual distraction, drivers’ eyes are off the road, such as looking at a billboard or the dashboard.

Mechanical: A driver’s hand is off the wheel during mechanical distraction, such as eating or handling an object.

Cognitive: Cognitive distraction poses the highest risk because the driver’s mind is off driving. When a driver’s brain is overloaded by two cognitive tasks, such as driving and talking on the phone, drivers make the phone conversation the main task and driving becomes the secondary task, without recognizing it. Driving is severely impaired as a secondary task, and the impairment can last a long time.

Texting while driving continues to be one of the leading causative factors and is one of the most visible unsafe driving behaviors.

Texting while driving is illegal and a primary offense in Virginia. A texting while driving conviction carries a $125 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for second or subsequent offenses.

Other top actions for distracted driving crashes in Virginia involve rubbernecking, talking with passengers, and adjusting the radio.

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Young distracted drivers are even more susceptible.

Inexperience in handling or controlling a vehicle during an emergency combined with distracted driving puts them at greater risk of a crash.

More young people are involved in distracted driving crashes than any other age group. The main types of collisions were rear end crashes and running off the road into a fixed object. The top driver action was “eyes not on the road.”

Distracted Driving Resources


Not getting enough rest before driving can be as deadly as drunk, drugged, and distracted driving.

Constant yawning, head nodding, heavy eyelids, difficulty remembering the last few miles driven, missing road signs or exits, unplanned lane changes, driving off the road, or hitting rumble strips are all signs of drowsy driving.

Driving while drowsy increases crash risk as drivers struggle to process complex information coming from different places at once. Drivers may make careless driving decisions, have trouble paying attention or fall asleep while driving.

Drowsy Driving Resources
National Sleep Foundation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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