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Drugs and Alcohol

Although most drivers realize the risk of consuming alcohol before driving, it is important to note the numerous misunderstandings about drinking alcohol and/or using drugs (including prescription drugs) while driving.  The first misconception is that it is legal to have a couple of drinks before driving. Even though a driver may not physically appear intoxicated, that driver may, in fact, be too impaired to legally drive a vehicle.  Physical and psychological changes occur when drinking alcohol.  Below is a description how these changes occur.

Physical Changes

When drinking alcohol, physical changes occur such as impaired vision (even at low blood alcohol levels), and this impairment increases as the level of alcohol in the bloodstream increases. Other factors that are affected are peripheral vision, reaction time to changing light levels, and depth perception. Therefore an impaired driver should not get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle as many vision changes occur when alcohol enters the bloodstream.

Should a person drive if they cannot see well? 

When the vision is negatively impacted by alcohol, vehicle crashes are more likely to occur that may include rear-end collisions, lane-change crashes, driving off the road and crashing, and crashes at intersections.  Since intersections may have lane patters that are offset, drivers who are impaired may enter that intersection (especially at night) and not clearly see the lane markings, pedestrians, or other vehicles.

Tactile Senses

Drivers who are impaired may have difficulty clearly and accurately perceiving the speed they are driving as well as motions around them.

Psychological Changes

When a driver is impaired, judgement and inhibitions are compromised. These drivers tend to behave differently and take unnecessary risks they would not take if they did not drink alcohol before driving. Short-term memory may also be negatively affected, which could prevent an impaired driver from performing the required test given to check sobriety.  These tasks include recalling the ABCs and following instructions that are repeated (i.e. waking forward 9 steps and then backward 9 steps).


Driving while impaired also makes it difficult to focus on the roadway as well as steer the vehicle and brake safely.

Ability to “Hold their alcohol”

Although someone with a smaller or more petite body frame may seem to be able to consume more alcohol without appearing intoxicated, this person would reach the legal limit of blood alcohol level more quickly than someone of a larger body size or weight. Regardless of being able to consume more alcohol or having a higher alcohol tolerance rate, a DUI arrest may still occur for a driver with a low blood alcohol level.  Therefore, it is essential to understand that law enforcement officers need to only record how the alcohol consumed is affecting the driver, even to the slightest degree.

One illustration of this is when a prosecuting attorney showed an analysis of this with a piece of paper.  The corner of the paper was torn off.  The attorney then asked the jury if the missing paper would affect their ability to write on the entire paper. They answered was yes, it did indeed affect the paper and their writing performance.  The same is true with drivers who are intoxicated. The driver is not able to control the vehicle to the best of his or her ability, hence jeopardizing that driver, a passenger, or other drivers on the roadway.

Yet another aspect to keep in mind is that when an intoxicated driver is in a crash, and the crash is NOT that driver’s fault, that same driver may be arrested for a DUI because he or she was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol.  Similarly, an intoxicated driver may be arrested with a felony charge if the passenger is the vehicle is hurt during a crash.  Finally, an intoxicated driver may also receive greater civil penalties if any alcohol consumption is involved in a crash.

October 14, 2020

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