What Qualifies as Impaired Driving? Your Teen Needs to Know

Educate your teen on the different forms of impairment.

September 14, 2018

Teen drivers face enormous risks behind the wheel, from inexperience to distraction, but one risk they may be particularly unprepared for is impairment.

While your teen needs to know how to safely operate a vehicle, he or she also must learn how to recognize when it is not safe for them to drive. You can help by educating your teen on the different forms of impairment so they are prepared to make the right decision.

Know the Forms of Impairment

When we think of impairment, alcohol is the main risk that comes to mind. And all 50 states have zero tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving for a reason: alcohol can severely impair your ability to drive safely. However, your teen must also be familiar with other forms of impairment:

  • Illegal drugs can severely impair drivers and increase the risk of a crash. Even if your state’s laws change on marijuana legalization, for example, your teen must know that there is still zero tolerance for using these substances while underage and behind the wheel.
  • Legal drugs can also pose a risk, including over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Something we often don’t realize is that when a doctor warns us about operating heavy machinery while taking a prescription medication, this includes driving a car.
  • Fatigue is a less obvious but very dangerous form of impairment. Teens require even more sleep than adults – 8-10 hours each night – and driving without proper sleep can be like driving drunk. With school, sports and maybe part-time jobs, teens can easily become fatigued. Make sure your teen is getting enough rest to stay safe on the roads.
  • Even extreme emotions can cause impairment for teens, so talk to your teen about the importance of staying focused and being in the right state of mind to drive.

Recognize the Hazards

Unfortunately, the dangers of impairment can come from more than just consuming substances or missing out on sleep. At some point, your teen is likely to share the road with impaired drivers and part of being a safe, defensive driver is being on the lookout for these hazards and knowing how to react.

Teach your teen to watch for swerving and other signs of a potentially impaired driver and make sure they know to never antagonize or act aggressively toward such a driver. Your teen should know that slowing down and pulling over to get away from a dangerous road user is always an option. It might even be the safest choice to get off the road and notify the police. Teach your teen how to identify safe areas to pull off the road in such a situation so they know what to do.

Make the Right Choice

The safest strategy for any driver – especially teens – is to avoid any substance or behavior that leads to impaired driving and to never ride with a driver they believe to be impaired. This may not always be easy – many impaired drivers believe they are completely safe to drive – but it is a necessary lesson for your teen to learn. Once your teen becomes familiar with these forms of impairment, make it clear that you are always available to give them a ride if they feel they cannot drive safely. Your teen’s safety is the top priority, so talk about these risks often to help protect them on the roads.

Partner with NSC

With a century-long legacy, the National Safety Council is a global center for safety expertise. Let's work together to align resources. We look forward to learning about ways we can join efforts to expand safety everywhere!

Shopping Cart

There are no items in your cart