Help prevent impaired driving this holiday; let this year’s only toll be paid on turnpike

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Virgil Rivera
  • Army Public Health Social Worker

Since 1981, every U.S. president has proclaimed December as “National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.” The proclamation remembers victims of impaired driving and their grieving families and also honors law enforcement personnel who work on the front lines of this very preventable condition.

Impaired driving occurs at all times during the year; however, holiday periods mark peak times of significant occurrence. The results of an impaired driving accident can take a toll on those directly or indirectly involved.

The bottom line is that impaired driving can not only result in death but can include damage to one’s reputation, jail time, probation and mandatory attendance to correctional training. Military personnel can also receive a letter of reprimand/general letter of reprimand, court-ordered training, referral to a treatment program, revoked privileges and a suspended driver’s license.

What are the major causes of impaired driving?
  • Legal and illegal substance use
  • Misuse of prescription medications
  • Distractions (ex: texting while driving, using hand-held cell phones, etc.)
  • Drowsiness

The Department of Defense acknowledges that substance misuse is a major risk factor contributing to Soldiers’ driving accidents. Army Regulations outline disciplinary actions and requirements for monitoring Soldiers involved in alcohol- or drug-related incidents. Actions can include a bar to reenlistment and/or administrative separation.

What are some effects of substance misuse to be aware of before driving?

Depending on the substance, the symptoms which result from substance misuse include but are not limited to —

  • Overall reduced psychomotor skills, and
  • Reduced cognitive function.

More specifically, these may appear as poor vigilance, drowsiness, slower reaction times, poorly divided attention, reduced coordination, imbalance, or inability to track moving objects.

What does the research say?

Many individuals reading this article may wonder, “So what can I do as a family member?” or “What should I do as a leader?”

It may help to know some basic information on this problem. Here are some helpful bits of information that may support your thought process before you talk with another person about impaired driving.

Parents and families need to know that car accidents are the leading cause of death for driving teenagers. Approximately one in four cases involves the misuse of alcohol. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration says 29 percent of drivers ages 15 to 20 years old who died in a car crash had a blood alcohol level of .01 or higher.

Military and civilian leaders should be aware that most Army personal vehicle crashes occur off-duty and do not occur on a military installation. Leading collision types among Army personnel include running off the road, colliding with a moving vehicle, and colliding with an object other than a vehicle. Injuries occur at higher rates among males who are under 21 years old. Accidents occur most frequently during federal holiday periods and the first 30 days after a service member’s return from deployment.

Further Information on Substance Misuse

When it comes to impaired driving, it is important to consider two important substance misuse conditions: substance addiction and substance abuse.

Substance addiction is being in a constant psychological and/or physical state of dependence on a substance.

Substance abuse is a pattern of compulsive use of a substance that may result in a repeated and significant impact on one’s social life and occupation.

Prevention — What can be done?

“As leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of our Soldiers,” said Capt. Jeff Robbins, an Army Reserve Nurse Corps officer assigned to the 7226th  Medical Support Unit in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “Misuse or dependence upon any substance (legal or illegal) can be the Achilles Heel for any Soldier, squad, platoon or army. Do you need to have a degree in counseling or be a mental health professional to recognize the damaging effects or substance abuse in your Soldiers? No. You just need to be concerned.”

Robbins, who works in the civilian sector as a family nurse practitioner and specializes in the substance misuse field, further adds that using the acronym CAGE may be a supportive tool when trying to figure out substance misuse:

C — Has anyone ever said you should cut back on your use?

A — Have you ever felt anger at confrontation of use?

G — Have you ever felt guilty for drinking/substance misuse?

E — Do you feel the need for an “eye-opener” upon waking?

It’s a difficult conversation, but it could save a Soldier’s life or your own.

Robbins adds that engaging in these types of talks can be difficult but is well worth the effort because it can save a life.

Here are some additional impaired driving prevention tips to consider:

  • Don’t let your friends, families, colleagues or teammates drive impaired.
  • Follow your prescription medication warning labels.
  • Ask your medical provider about your medication’s impact on driving.
  • Plan ahead and get a designated driver.
  • Use a shared ride service.
  • Consume alcohol-free drinks.
  • If you notice a continued pattern of substance misuse, then take the time and speak with a trusted person or a credentialed provider.
  • Prepare and configure the items in your vehicle ahead of time to avoid spills and drops.
  • Don’t drive if you are drunk, tired or extremely stressed.
How does the Army address substance misuse?

Historically, the Army Substance Abuse Program, or ASAP, was the single point of entry for all matters regarding substance misuse; however, in 2016 the program divided into separate efforts to streamline services.

The Army has two systems in place at the installation level: prevention and treatment.

Prevention efforts are based within ASAP. At the installation level, the ASAP lead is the ASAP manager and is the single point of contact for all administrative matters regarding ASAP. The program provides numerous services including testing, reporting, education and training.

Treatment efforts are based within the local military treatment facility under the Department of Behavioral Health. The Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care clinic is the lead in all evaluation and treatment matters regarding substance misuse.

Another item to note is that ASAP has remained a commanders’ program. The most notable update to this program is that active-duty Soldiers who self-refer and volunteer for treatment will retain full confidentiality, be connected to services, and will not be reported to their commanders.

"This is often a challenge for many Army commanders and leaders since at the end of the day, they’re the ones that ultimately make the final decision in a situation where a Soldier was charged with driving under the influence,” said Lt. Col. Ulu Porter, chief of Social Work Services at Keller Army Community Hospital in West Point, New York. “Army leaders try their best to use the holistic person approach in balancing the interest of the Army and what's best for the Soldier. There are a host of options the leader can choose from, including treatment and rehabilitation, corrective training, and bar from reenlistment  – to mention a few."

If you or someone you know may need help, please reach out to your installation ASAP office or SUDCC clinic for more information.


The Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen advances Joint Force health protection with agile public health enterprise solutions in support of the National Defense Strategy.

NOTE: The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only, and not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products.