Driving On A Highway-5 Ways To Stop High-Risk Impaired Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash every 45 minutes. Many crashes also involve other substances, including marijuana, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs. 

To prevent these accidents, communities must address high-risk impaired driving. 

What Is High-Risk Impaired Driving?

Every year, there are over 111 million self-reported cases of alcohol-impaired driving. Many people also drive while impaired by other substances. 

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, Denver experienced a 300% increase in polysubstance-impaired driving cases between 2013 and 2016. This increase followed the state’s 2012 legalization of marijuana.

All impaired drivers threaten public safety. However, not all of them are considered high-risk. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a high-risk impaired driver is a driver who:

  • lacks the self-control or restraint to resist impaired driving
  • has faced more than one DUI arrest
  • is likely to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 percent or higher
  • is likely to misuse multiple substances (also known as polysubstance use)

Here are five ways we stop high-risk impaired driving.

1. Lower BAC Limits

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. In most states, a BAC level of 0.08 percent is the legal driving limit. 

If you drive with a greater BAC, you face a high risk of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. That’s because the amount of alcohol you drank can severely impair your coordination, vision, reaction time, and judgment.

Driving with a BAC above the legal limit can lead to a DUI arrest. This sanction effectively reduces alcohol-impaired drivers and alcohol-related crashes.  

However, states could make roadways even safer by lowering the legal driving limit. 

In 2018, Utah became the first and only state to lower the legal limit to 0.05 percent BAC. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this law led to an 18% decrease in fatal crashes per mile driven in the first year after it was implemented. 

2. Require Ignition Interlock Devices

An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer (alcohol breath test) placed in a person’s vehicle. The driver must blow into the breathalyzer before starting their vehicle. If the breathalyzer shows the person’s BAC is above a certain level (typically 0.02 percent), the vehicle will not start.

These devices can reduce drunk driving deaths by preventing recidivism (repeat offenses) among DUI offenders. 

As of 2023, 30 states and the District of Columbia require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders, including first-time offenders. Eight other states require the devices for high BAC offenders and repeat offenders. 

3. Establish Publicized Sobriety Checkpoints

Publicized sobriety checkpoints are roadblocks where law enforcement officers check drivers for signs of impairment. Depending on the checkpoint, either some or all drivers are checked. Drivers who show signs of impairment must pass an alcohol breath test. 

These checkpoints help deter people from alcohol-and-drug-impaired driving, especially when publicized through mass media campaigns. When drivers know these checkpoints exist, they are less likely to use substances before getting behind the wheel. 

Some people find sobriety checkpoints unconstitutional because they allow police officers to stop drivers without cause. As a result, twelve states have banned them. 

These bans seem to increase impaired driving rates. According to a 2022 study, states that eliminate sobriety checkpoints experience 25% more DUI arrests per year. 

4. Establish High-Visibility Saturation Patrols

A high-visibility saturation patrol occurs when a large number of police officers patrol a certain area to detect impaired drivers. 

They typically take place at times and in locations with a high drunk driving crash risk. In many cases, they are used as an alternative to sobriety checkpoints in states that have banned them.

Like sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols are most effective when highly publicized. They deter potential drunk drivers by reminding people that the criminal justice system does not take impaired driving lightly. 

According to the CDC, states with high-visibility saturation patrols have much lower rates of impaired driving. 

5. Treat Drug Abuse & Addiction

Alcohol or drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) is a significant risk factor for impaired driving. Thus, communities can decrease impaired driving rates by expanding access to evidence-based addiction treatment. 

This type of treatment helps people strengthen their mental health and make positive, long-term behavior changes. 

Community leaders can help people access treatment by working to reduce stigma. Stigma refers to judgment based on a personal characteristic. Addiction is often stigmatized as a moral failure, even though it’s a serious disease. 

When communities implement initiatives to decrease stigma, such as educational workshops, people become much more likely to seek treatment. 

If you or someone you love struggles with substance abuse, please reach out to Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and other evidence-based interventions to help you or your loved one stay sober.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Impaired Driving: Get the Facts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Saturation Patrols

Governors Highway Safety Association — High-Risk Impaired Drivers

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — Drunk Driving

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Drinking Levels Defined

Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center — Sobriety Checkpoint Laws, Fatal Car Crashes and Arrests

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

©2024 Northeast Addition Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.