As a trauma surgeon at an inner-city Level 1 trauma center, we see too many crashes involving an impaired driver. Often, we care for both driver and victim, which can be challenging. What is most frustrating about these cases is the simplicity of the solution—don’t drive drunk. Unfortunately, we still have to continually emphasize this fact.

What is impaired driving?

Impaired driving not only involves alcohol, but also substances such as marijuana, which is the second most common drug found in the blood of drivers in crashes. However, any illicit drugs, and some prescription or over-the-counter medicines, can alter drivers’ abilities.

Impaired driving in Rhode Island

About 37 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes every day — that's one person every 39 minutes. In Rhode Island, about 40 percent of total traffic fatalities involve alcohol-impaired driving.

At Rhode Island Hospital, we see impaired driving crashes every day, sometimes multiple times a day. When victims arrive from an impaired driving crash, their injuries range from lacerations with bleeding muscles to deformed limbs with exposed bones. At times, the patients have a hard time breathing and speaking because of their injuries. It is incredibly traumatic for everyone in the room. Sometimes these patients will die in our emergency room. Those who survive are often scarred with physical or mental health problems, making it difficult for them to live as they did prior to the crash. Others are permanently hospitalized in some form.

We use the word accident, but it’s not an accident. A decision was made to drive impaired. The decision to keep yourself and others safe can be made before drinking even starts. Decide that you are NOT going to drive impaired.

Plan Ahead for a Safe Ride

Here are several of the most proven ways to ensure a safe ride:

  • Plan your safe ride home before you start the party. Choose a non-drinking friend as a designated driver.
  • Likewise, plan ahead for a sober driver if you plan to use an impairing drug.
  • If someone you know is impaired, do not let that person behind the wheel. TAKE THEIR KEYS!
  • If you drink, do not drive for any reason. Call a taxi, a ride-hailing service, or a sober friend.
  • If you’re hosting a party where alcohol or other substances will be served, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
  • Read and follow all warning labels on prescription and over-the-counter medicines before driving and note that warnings against “operating heavy machinery” include driving a vehicle.
  • Talk to your health care provider about possible side effects of any prescribed medications. You can also request printed information about the side effects of any new medicine.
  • Always wear your seat belt — it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.

For more information on keeping yourself and others safe, visit the Injury Prevention Center website.

Stephanie N. Lueckel, MD

Dr. Stephanie Lueckel is a trauma attending physician in the trauma and surgical critical care division of Rhode Island Hospital and assistant professor of surgery at The Warren Alpert School of Medicine of Brown University.