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Module 3

Alcohol and Drugs

We turn now to another very serious subject: the laws that cover drug and alcohol use while driving.  We will discuss the zero tolerance policy for teenage drivers who drive impaired.  We’ll also talk about the penalties that face teens who do drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  We will cover what alcohol and drugs do to the body and the brain, and how they turn the combination of an impaired person and a vehicle into a deadly weapon.

Part 1: Effects of Alcohol

Here’s the plain truth: every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is preventable. If the driver involved in the crash had called a cab or a friend to take them home, the accident would not have happened. Although the percentage of crashes that are alcohol-related has dropped considerably in recent decades, there are still far too many of these tragic and preventable collisions. In spite of great progress by law and safety officials in spreading the word, alcohol-impaired driving remains a serious national problem that devastatingly and permanently affects many innocent victims each year.

People who drive after drinking, especially if they have a high blood alcohol content, put themselves and others at a greatly increased risk of car accidents, highway injuries and death. The state of Nevada has put in place a number of measures to punish and deter drunk drivers. We will cover these, which include suspending or revoking driver licenses, impounding or confiscating license plates, impounding or immobilizing vehicles, enforcing open-container bans, increasing penalties such as fines or jail for drunk driving, and requiring alcohol education. We will talk about how safe and responsible drivers who have had a drink use designated drivers, and we’ll go over effective practical ways to stay sober.

Never get behind the wheel if you’ve had even one drink. Not only can just one drink impair you, but understand this:  unlike adults, for you as long as you are a minor, there’s no realistic legal, permissible blood alcohol limit for you.  (We’ll discuss what the term “blood alcohol limit” means, in a moment.)

And never, ever get in a car with someone else who has been drinking. The people most often harmed by drunk drivers are themselves and their passengers. The risk of collision is dramatically higher for drivers who’ve been drinking than for those who haven’t.

Advertisements might make it seem like alcohol is no big deal when they show friends together at dinner. But those companies are trying to sell a product. Alcohol is a huge deal – it is a drug. It is a depressant that affects the entire nervous system.

A typical drink contains about 3/5 of an ounce of alcohol. The following drinks contain about the same amount of alcohol:

  • One 12-ounce beer that is 5 percent alcohol
  • One 5-ounce glass of wine that is 12 percent alcohol
  • One shot of 80 proof distilled spirits

One thing many people forget when they take a drink of alcohol is how fast it affects the body.  When you drink alcohol, it’s not like drinking other liquids, nor is it like eating food. Normally, when you eat and drink, the food stays in your stomach while the digesting process begins.

Not so with alcohol, however.  When you drink alcohol, most of it goes directly from your stomach into your bloodstream, and it immediately starts circulating in your blood.  Once that happens, there is only one way known to reduce the amount of blood in your body: that way is time.  All the stories people tell each other about lowering the alcohol in your blood— by drinking coffee, or taking a cold shower, or whatever else–will not work.  They’re just stories.

The reason people still recommend these useless techniques is because drinking coffee or splashing ice water on yourself may make you feel more wide-awake and alert.  But how you feel isn’t what counts when you are stopped by a police officer who suspects you of driving under the influence of alcohol.  What does count, then?  It’s the percentage of alcohol in your blood, which is called “Blood alcohol content (BAC)” which can be measured by police with a breathalyzer or blood test.

How alcohol affects driving ability

You already know that to drive safely, you need to be alert, aware and able to make quick decisions. Alcohol alters the normal function of the brain and body, and interferes with your ability to drive safely by impairing your judgment (like figuring out how fast another car is going) and your reaction time (like how quickly you can brake and steer to avoid that car that is going faster than you thought).

In addition to reducing the mind’s alertness, the body’s coordination can be affected as well. Vision may be blurred or doubled. The eyes’ depth perception— which under normal circumstances lets drivers know if objects like other cars or pedestrians are close or far away – is altered in drivers who have been drinking. Think about it: how could someone possibly drive if they can’t tell how close something is or how fast it is going? It’s not hard to understand why drivers who have been drinking cause so many serious accidents.

As we’ve noted, alcohol affects judgment. Ironically, and potentially tragically, people who drive after drinking may feel overconfident and not realize that their driving skills are impaired. Many have been known to say, when their friends are urging them not to get behind the wheel, “I drive better when I’ve had a few drinks.”  It’s sad.  Their driving is more likely to be careless or reckless than “better” in any way. These people are more likely to weave in and out of lanes, speed excessively, miss stop signs, drive off the road, or make other critical mistakes

If you’re not convinced of the seriousness of impaired driving, here’s a sobering fact: law enforcement tells us that alcohol is involved in about 40 percent of all fatal highway accidents. Here’s another fact: a young driver (that’s you!) with a blood alcohol limit of only .02 to .05 percent is at least seven times more likely to be killed in an accident than a sober driver.  A driver with a blood alcohol content of 12 percent is 90 times more likely to be killed. It’s simple: If you drive, don’t drink. If you drink, don’t drive.

Part 2: Effects of Drugs

Alcohol isn’t the only culprit that can impair driving. Drugs—not only illegal drugs but also some prescription drugs such as sedatives and painkillers—can affect a person’s ability to drive safely. In fact, any drug that causes drowsiness —including some you can buy without a prescription such as cough, cold or allergy medications—can also affect your ability to drive safely.

Being sick can be a distraction when you drive. If you are ill and are taking medications, you should definitely wait until you are better to get behind the wheel. You can be found to be driving while intoxicated when it can be shown that your ability to drive was adversely affected by the drugs you were taking, even though they were prescription drugs that were prescribed by your doctor.

While different drugs can have different effects on driving, any drug that slows you down, speeds you up or changes the way you see things can affect your driving – and too often with tragic consequences.

Watch the Video:   Drunk Driving Awareness


In most states, marijuana is illegal. But even in the few places where consumption is allowed, people may not drive after they’ve used it. That’s because marijuana impairs depth perception, attention span and concentration. It slows reaction time, and decreases muscle strength and hand steadiness. You can imagine how these effects impede safe driving. Furthermore, marijuana causes drowsiness and can distort a person’s sense of time and space.  It also slows the eye’s response to light and dulls a person’s reactions.  In Nevada, possession of any amount of marijuana can result in a one-year driver license suspension.

Here’s how serious marijuana can be: researchers at Columbia University reviewed 24,000 driving fatalities and found that marijuana contributed to 12 percent of traffic deaths in 2010. That was triple the number from just one decade before.

Plus, other studies have found drugged driving is high among younger drivers. For example, one in eight high school seniors responding to a 2010 survey admitted to driving after smoking marijuana. The results of those dangerous decisions are clear: another study revealed that nearly a quarter of drivers killed in drug-related car crashes were younger than 25.


Don’t make the mistake of thinking that stimulant drugs, such as caffeine, amphetamines and cocaine, make you a better driver. These drugs may temporarily increase alertness, but they don’t improve driving skills and the stimulant effect could wear off very suddenly. Don’t turn to stimulants to help you stay awake while driving. If you are tired, pull off the road and find a place to sleep.

As with alcohol, people who use cocaine may feel over-confident about their driving ability. But cocaine can seriously impact vision. It can cause blurred vision and hallucinations. Other vision problems, such as flashes or the appearance of light in the peripheral vision, can cause impaired drivers to swerve suddenly.  People who use cocaine may also hear sounds that are not there, which distract from driving.

Amphetamines may not affect physical driving skills when taken at medical doses. However, even at these doses they can impair driving by making some people feel overconfident, which can lead to risky driving. Higher doses of amphetamines can make people aggressive, which is a bad state to be in while driving.  Generally, stimulants can cause nervousness and paranoia; in overdoses they can cause seizures, convulsions and death.

Narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs

It won’t surprise you to learn that narcotics like heroin can severely impair a person’s ability to drive. These drugs can cause users to enter a stupor-like state and experience slowed reaction time, visual distortions, and impaired coordination and motor skills.

Hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD, ecstasy, mescaline and psilocybin, severely impact driving ability by distorting a person’s perception and mood. We can’t emphasize this enough: driving while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs is extremely dangerous.

Drivers may see things that are not there – causing them to swerve into someone else. These drugs can also create a feeling of super strength, which may lead to aggressive behavior.  The behavior of anyone using hallucinogenic drugs is unpredictable – which is not what we want on our roads!

Over-the-counter medications

Never forget that some non-prescription medication can also cause a driver to be impaired.  Drowsiness is a fairly common side effect for some cold and allergy medications, and many cough syrups contain alcohol. Stimulants – such as those in diet pills – can cause erratic behavior and nervousness, which actually impairs a person’s ability to concentrate.

Always check medication labels for side effects, and wait until you are no longer taking them to get behind the wheel if they can impair driving. You can be found at fault in an accident if these medications were contributing factors.

Prescription drugs

0The same is true for many prescription drugs.  Some narcotic drugs are legal when prescribed by a physician, who must keep a careful record of such prescriptions.  This type of narcotic, like codeine, Demerol and other painkillers, can cause drowsiness, stupor, a false sense of well-being and poor coordination.  Depressants such as sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and barbiturates can also cause drowsiness, falling asleep uncontrollably, slowed reactions, and poor coordination.

Combining these drugs can intensify these effects. It won’t matter to law enforcement if you were prescribed these medications and were taking them legally and in the prescribed amounts. If your driving is likely to be impaired by any substance, you may not drive.  And remember, the doctor who prescribed the drugs will not be held accountable, because it is your responsibility to know what you are putting into your body and how it is likely to affect you.

Part 3: Driving under the influence (DUI)

Here are the sad facts: more than 3,000 teenagers die every year in DUI-related accidents. In fact, the rate of alcohol-related accidents is higher for drivers between the ages of 16-20 —who cannot legally drink! — than it is for adults over the age of 21. One of the reasons this rate is higher for teenagers is because they are inexperienced with alcohol.  Teenagers may take greater risks with alcohol, and they exercise less caution.

Teenagers may not always realize it, but they put themselves and others in danger when they get behind the wheel of a car after they have been drinking or using drugs. This is why Nevada has such harsh penalties for teenage drunk driving.

The Law and the Consequences for Violating It

As it is in all other states, it is illegal in Nevada to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  There are blood alcohol limits that designate the point at which drivers are presumed to be impaired. Breath and blood tests can determine if a driver exceeds these limits. You risk losing your license if you refuse to take a breath or blood test when asked to do so by law enforcement.

That bears repeating:  if you refuse to take a test to determine your BAC when asked to do so by law enforcement, you risk losing your license.  NOTE: On the driver license application, there is a place for your signature confirming that you agree to consent to a chemical test of your breath, blood, urine or saliva at any time in the future that you’re asked to do so.

If you don’t sign, you don’t get a license.  So, you see, anyone who is driving with a Nevada license has already agreed to be tested for BAC or drugs.  Testing for drug intoxication is a bit more difficult than testing for alcohol, but there are ways to test drivers who are suspected to be under the influence of drugs.

Because of the serious and sometimes permanent consequences of teens driving under the influence, Nevada has passed tough teen driving under the influence (DUI) laws. In fact, punishments for teenagers who are guilty of a DUI are often harsher than punishments given to adult first-time offenders! This is because teens who drink and drive have broken two sets of laws – those that prohibit minors from drinking alcohol until they are 21, and those that prohibit driving under the influence.

The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits in Nevada are:
  • 0.02 percent for drivers under the age of 21
  • 0.04 percent for commercial license holders
  • 0.08 percent for everyone else

The first thing to understand about BAC limits for anyone is this:  if your BAC is found to be under the legal limit, that does not mean you’re safe to drive.

And the first thing you need to understand about the 0.02 percent BAC limit for a person under 21 is this: a person with that amount of alcohol in their blood very likely does not look or act “drunk” in the way we usually think of that word. If you have 0.02 percent, you are probably not dizzy, stumbling around, talking too loudly in slurred speech.  As a matter a fact, it’s likely you can still speak normally enough that only someone who knows you very well can detect a slight change in your behavior.

This is why many people make the mistake of thinking they’re OK to drive…they think they aren’t “drunk,” they’ve “just had a few drinks….” Or, if you’re under 21, it could possibly be:  “I just had one beer!”  because that’s all it can take to get your BAC up to 0.02%, the legal limit for under 21’s.

And in some cases it can take less than that, because the amount of alcohol in the blood is not the same for everyone, even if they drank the same amount of alcoholic drink. Here’s why: a person weighing 200 lbs. is much larger than a person weighing 100 lbs., so obviously the heavier person has a lot more blood in his body. Therefore, if those two persons sit down and each drinks a bottle of beer, the smaller one is going to reach the legal limit a lot sooner than the heavier one.

Here’s a mental experiment to help you understand how this works: Picture a glassful of water next to a  quart bottle of water.  Add a drop of red dye to each, and you’ll find that the glass of water turns faintly pink, while no red will show up at all in the bottle of water.

All of this helps explain why the phrase “drunk driving” is a little misleading. The law prefers to use the phrase “driving under the influence,” (“DUI”), and this is how you should think of it:  If you’ve had even just one drink, you may be OK to talk with your friends without slurring your speech, but since you’ve taken that one drink, you’re now under the influence— and therefore, simply not OK to drive.

Any driver who is stopped by law enforcement and believed to be above the BAC limits listed above will be arrested – and they will face severe penalties.  At the very least, your driver license may be revoked for at least 90 days on a first offense. On top of that, your car could be impounded.  And this can happen before your case even works its way through the courts!

These are the administrative penalties that can apply based on your test results. Any accidents or damages you caused while you were intoxicated behind the wheel could get you criminally convicted or sued in civil court by the people you injured or whose property you damaged.  Courts can impose these penalties upon conviction. When it’s all done, your license could be suspended for an extended period as well.

Drivers in Nevada who are convicted of a first-time DUI offense are looking at minimum penalties that include:
  • Driver license suspended for 90 days
  • Jail sentence of two days to six months, or 96 hours of community service
  • Fine of $400 to $1,000
  • Attend DUI school – at your expense!
  • May be ordered to attend a treatment program if their blood alcohol level was .08% or more
A person who receives a second DUI offense within seven years will have their driver license revoked for one year; and will not be eligible for a restricted license.  They will also receive:
  • Jail sentence of 10 days to 6 months
  • Fine of $750 to $1,000
  • 100 to 200 hours of community service
  • Possible suspension of vehicle registration
  • May be ordered to attend a treatment program for up to one year
Any subsequent DUI offense within seven years will result in a loss of driver license for three years. The penalties become higher, including:
  • Prison sentence of one to six years
  • Fine of $2,000 to $5,000
  • Possible vehicle registration suspension
  • May be ordered to attend a program of treatment for a minimum of 3 years

Any DUI causing death or serious injury will result in revocation of driver license for three years, a prison sentence of two to 20 years, and a fine of $2,000 to $5,000.

The Open Container Law

In Nevada, it is unlawful, for anyone of any age, to drink alcohol while driving. It is also illegal to have a  container of an alcoholic beverage that has been opened within the passenger area of a motor vehicle while the vehicle is being driven.

Avoiding driving while intoxicated

The best way to avoid a DUI arrest and conviction is to not drink (or use drugs) and drive! If you neither drink nor use drugs, you will not risk the unwanted consequence of driving while under the influence.  And don’t forget to be cautious about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you take.  If in doubt, don’t drive at all:

  • Use public transportation or a taxi
  • Appoint a designated driver
  • Stay where you are

Don’t take chances. It only takes one bad decision to make a mistake that can have devastating and permanent consequences for you and others.

Avoiding the intoxicated driver

You can help yourself to stay away from intoxicated drivers by knowing when they are most likely to be on the roads: the highest incidence of DUI occurs between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.  As a teen driver, you should not be driving during these restricted hours anyway. But not all impaired drivers wait until late at night to hit the road, so it’s important to be able to identify the typical behavior of intoxicated drivers so that you can get out of the way.

Look out for:
  • Unreasonably fast or slow speeds
  • Excessive lane changes
  • Sloppy passing
  • Overshooting or disregarding traffic signals
  • Weaving
  • Failure to turn on or to dim headlights when required

If necessary, slow down, or even pull over and stop for a minute or two to put distance between you and the intoxicated driver!

Teens and DUIs

There are consequences to getting a DUI as a teen that can have a lasting effect – and impact much more than just your driving privileges. Aside from the harsh criminal and civil penalties given for an underage DUI, there are social consequences that can include the unwillingness of companies to hire you or of colleges, universities, and certain branches of the US military, to accept you if you try to enlist.

If you’ve been convicted of a DUI you must disclose this information on all college applications. It may not prevent you from getting into college, but it certainly decreases your chances of getting into your top picks. And don’t be tempted to leave this information off your application: failure to list the DUI on the application can result in automatic expulsion if the college later finds out about it. In some states, students that are convicted of DUIs cannot continue their majors in education or pre-law.

Furthermore, starting a career with a DUI conviction could be difficult. Many companies ask applicants to list any criminal convictions. This may not exclude you from consideration for a job, but it sure is a strike against you. A civil judgment against a teen driver can also last years, meaning that their future wages could be withheld to pay for damages.

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