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NL-S SWAT Students Release Findings of Impaired Driving Survey

Imagine a scenario - you get behind the wheel of your car one night, feeling fine, but really, your nervous system is off balance, affected by substances that are altering your perceptions, reaction times, and your brain activity. Would you put the key in the ignition? While results of a recent survey of NL-S high school students show that many of our students haven’t been in this situation, they also reveal a troubling dilemma. Nearly 18% of NL-S high schoolers who took this survey claimed that they have either driven under the influence of alcohol or another impairing substance, or they have ridden as a passenger with a drunk driver because they had no other means of transportation. Another 18% of students who have driven under the influence said that they did not know they were impaired, or they felt no effects of impairment.

Clearly, these students made it through the ride and lived to tell the tale, but according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s crash report, roughly 20% of the 358 fatalities on Minnesota roads in 2017 were drunk-driving related. In Kandiyohi County alone, there were 192 DWI incidents in 2017, with 116 of the intoxicated drivers being teens and young adults under the age of 35. Driving under the influence is a problem that we’re not discussing enough, but what stays silent doesn’t disappear. Just how much do alcohol and other psychoactive substances affect your driving, or the driving of your friends and neighbors on the road? Is the ride worth the chance? If not, what are some other modes of transportation that you can find here in rural Minnesota?

It is widely known and agreed that alcohol consumption is impairing drivers and results in dangerous consequences on the road. However, alcohol is not the sole inhibiting substance that could put you and others in danger. It is the purpose of all drugs to alter your physical and mental state, and they influence your abilities behind the wheel in different ways. Marijuana, like alcohol, is a depressant and can result in mild hallucinogenic effects. According to an article on The National Institute of Drug Abuse that cited several studies of fatal car crashes, drivers with THC, the active and addictive ingredient in marijuana, were nearly twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those with no traces of drugs in their system at the time of a crash. This puts marijuana only slightly behind alcohol in the running for the most common drug involved in deadly car crashes. It can cause delayed reaction time, lessened alertness, and increased lane weaving. On the other end of the spectrum, according to an article on the website of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine can lead to aggressive, erratic driving, speeding, and decreased or blurry vision. Likewise, hallucinogens distort your perception of reality, causing you to perceive things that are not there, which can be extremely dangerous when one is in the driver’s seat. It is not merely the high that can lead to life-threatening accidents while driving either: the hungover effects left behind once the initial high of the drug wears off still have the power to impair driving abilities.

In the past 10 years, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety has made progress in lowering the number of impaired drivers. The number of fatal crashes in 2008 decreased by half by 2012. Although the number of crashes has gone down, doesn’t mean there aren’t still injuries, deaths, arrests, and other consequences.

The consequences of teenage impaired driving include:

  • Loss of license for up to a year
  • Thousands of dollars in costs
  • possible jail time

Individuals with multiple DWI’s may suffer:

  • Ignition interlock (a device which won’t an individual start his/her car unless blown into and shows an alcohol concentration level less than 0.16)
  • They may never regain driving privileges.

Out of the 42,239 people living in Kandiyohi County (as of 2017), 5,207 (12.2%) have suffered a consequence involving impaired driving. That is a large portion of the people living here. 24.4% of the Kandiyohi County population is under 18 years of age. New London and Spicer do not have other forms of transportation like Uber or Lyft, so we, the NL-S SWAT Club urge you to always plan your night, and have people lined up as drivers. If you cannot find a ride home call someone you trust, because they would rather come get you then go to your funeral.

 NL-S SWAT is Students Working Against Alcohol, Tobacco, and other drugs through local initiatives, events, and educational opportunities. SWAT students look for new ways educate and promote healthy drug free lifestyle choices. SWAT is supported by the Kandiyohi County Drug Free Communities Coalition. Interested in joining or helping our students in their mission, contact SWAT Advisor Megan Field, fieldm@nls.k12.mn.us

Consequences: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/impaired-driving/Pages/default.aspx

Other statistics: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/reports-statistics/Documents/2017%20IDF.pdf

Census Bureau: www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/kandiyohicountyminnesota/PST045217