Spring Break Safety – How to Identify an Impaired Driver

Many spring breakers drive to and from their vacation destinations. Spring break drivers are often relatively inexperienced due to their youth and may have difficulty navigating hazardous driving situations. One way to manage the risk is to spot impaired drivers early so you can increase your space cushion. This way, if the impaired driver causes a crash, you are much less likely to be part of it.

Although the term “impaired” typically refers to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, for the purposes of this article, it refers to any driver who is exhibiting difficulty with the driving process. A driver may be “impaired” by drowsiness, confusion, distractions inside or outside their vehicle, aggression, talking on a cellular phone, or a variety of other causes. For those who are sharing the road with an impaired driver, the most important issue is that the other driver is impaired; the specific reason isn’t as significant, because the reactions of other drivers should be the same regardless of the source of the impairment.

You should scan the general behavior of other vehicles when you search the driving scene, noticing any drivers who are:

  • Drifting within their lane
  • Speeding or driving at erratic speeds (speeding up, then slowing suddenly)
  • Weaving in and out of lanes
  • Exhibiting odd behavior, such as stopping for a green traffic light
  • Displaying aggressive behavior, such as following too closely

Once you recognize that a driver is impaired, you must increase the amount of space between your vehicle and theirs. Motorists are often tempted to pass a driver who may be impaired, but this option is dangerous because it decreases the space between you and the impaired driver, even if only temporarily. The point of identifying impaired drivers is to note their unpredictability. If the impaired driver makes another mistake while you are passing, you could be involved in a crash.

Take the following actions when you recognize an impaired driver:

  • Reduce your speed. This will increase your following distance if you are behind the impaired driver. Also, reducing your speed will allow you to more safely take other actions, such as changing lanes.
  • Continue scanning the driving scene. Don’t get so distracted by the impaired driver that you cause a crash yourself.
  • Increase your following distance from other vehicles. If you tailgate the vehicle in front of you, you will be forced to focus on that vehicle to avoid rear-ending it.
  • Once you’ve increased your distance from the impaired driver, check the space cushion all around your vehicle – in front, behind, and on both sides. Make sure you haven’t compromised your space cushion in your effort to move away from the impaired driver. Make any necessary corrections carefully. Remember to signal for all lane changes.
  • Resume your scan of the driving scene. Impaired drivers are common in popular vacation spots.

If you think an impaired driver is in imminent danger of causing a crash, ask a passenger to note the license plate number, a description of the vehicle, and the vehicle’s location and direction of travel. Have your passenger contact law enforcement, or pull off the road so you can safely make the call yourself.

Make your spring break a safe, healthy, relaxed vacation using defensive driving techniques from the National Safety Commission.