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DUI not just alcohol-related driving issue

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star

While the term DUI, for many, has become synonymous with the consequences of consuming alcohol before driving, there are other substances that cause impairment.

With the passage of new marijuana laws across the country becoming more commonplace, residents using any drug — even if it's a legal one — need be aware of the risks of impairment before choosing to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Many types of drugs and medication, both legal and illegal, can impair one's ability to drive safely, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, at nhtsa.gov, states. Also, certain medications or drugs may not cause impairment on their own, but may, if taken with a second medication or with alcohol.

“While evidence shows that drug-impaired driving is dangerous, we still have more to learn about the extent of the problem and how best to address it,” Taylor Bivings, with Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, said.

In January 2018, NHTSA launched an initiative to address drug-impaired driving.

NHTSA teamed up with law enforcement to remind drivers that drug-impaired driving is dangerous and illegal. Its campaign, If You Feel Different You Drive Different, Drive High Get a DUI, aims to educate people about how driving while drug-impaired puts everyone on the road in danger.

Research shows that marijuana impairs motor skills, lane tracking and cognitive functions, Bivings said.

“There are many misconceptions about marijuana use, including rumors that marijuana can’t cause impairment or that marijuana use can actually make you a safer driver, Bivings said. “Several scientific studies indicate that this is false.”

THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, can slow reaction times, impair cognitive performance and make it more difficult to keep a steady lane position, Bivings said.

“A 2015 study on driving after smoking cannabis stated that THC in marijuana also hurts a driver’s ability to multitask, a critical skill needed behind the wheel,” Bivings said.

The bottom line is residents under the influence of marijuana can be arrested for DUI.

From 2008 to 2017, of those drivers killed in crashes who were tested for marijuana, marijuana presence had nearly doubled, Bivings said.

Bivings also offered some tips to help keep everyone safe:

• When using an impairing drug, designate a sober driver, call a cab, or use a ride-share service.

• Don’t let friends get behind the wheel if they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

• At a party where alcohol or other substances will be used, it’s the host's job to make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.

• Always wear a seatbelt — it’s the best defense against impaired drivers.

For more information, visit nhtsa.gov/risky-driving.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.