Distracted Driving & Impaired Driving: 6 Things Nurses Can Do

Don’t drink and drive. 

Everyone’s heard that message a million times. But what about these messages?

Don’t text and drive.
Don’t brush your hair and drive.
Don’t be exhausted and drive.
Don’t take certain medications and drive.

Drunk driving is incredibly dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 10,000 people died in vehicle crashes related to alcohol-impaired driving in 2012. 

But distracted driving and other forms of impaired driving are very dangerous, too. Nearly 3,000 fatal accidents were the result of distraction in 2014, according to NHTSA, and another 431,000 people were injured by distracted drivers that year. 

As nurses, you may have seen the victims of some of those crashes, cared for them in the ED or critical care unit, or consoled their grieving family members. You’ve seen first-hand the type of devastation that can result. 

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As a neurosurgery nurse practitioner who worked in a Level 1 trauma center, Megan Keiser, RN, DNP, CNRN, has cared for these victims, as well. Now an assistant professor in the department of nursing at the University of Michigan-Flint, Keiser is currently conducting a research study on distracted driving attitudes and behaviors among undergraduate college students. She noted that older teens and young adults are the most likely to engage in risky behavior. But anyone can become a distracted driver. Even you. 

6 Ways You Can Take The Initiative to Reduce Distracted and Impaired Driving:

1. Examine Your Own Risky Behaviors.

When was the last time you succumbed to the temptation to check your smartphone while behind the wheel? Or put on makeup, or run a comb through your hair on the way to work? Take an honest look at what you are doing and remember it only makes a momentary slip to cause an accident. “Behind the wheel is not the time to multi-task,” noted Holly Carpenter, BSN, RN, policy associate for the American Nurses Association’s nursing practice and work environment division. 

2. Give Yourself Plenty of Time.

Keiser has heard people justify their distracted driving behaviors by claiming to be in a hurry. “But you’re putting yourself or somebody else at risk,” she said. Find ways to give yourself more time to do those important tasks so you can completely focus when you’re behind the wheel. 

3. Drive Distraction-free and Encourage Others to Do so, Too.

The End Distracted Driving campaign, organized by the Casey Feldman Foundation--which was set up to honor the memory of a young woman killed by a distracted driver--encourages drivers to set good examples for others. Model good behavior and minimize distractions when you’re driving. And when you’re a passenger, support your driver so he or she won’t be distracted; take over responsibility for the GPS system, the radio or the phone so drivers can keep their eyes and mind on the road. 

4. Rest up.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that around 11 million drivers have caused or nearly caused an accident because they’ve drifted off to sleep or were very tired while behind the wheel. It’s just not worth it to try driving when you’re exhausted and haven’t gotten enough sleep. “Nurses must practice self-care and get the rest they need to remain vigilant on the road,” said Carpenter. 

5.  Don’t Drive if You’re Taking Certain Medications.

Some medicines are notorious for making you feel sleepy, drowsy or woozy. From certain allergy medications and antihistamines to anxiety medications and opiates, such as morphine or codeine, there are a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can cause problems. Physicians and pharmacists may help give warnings to your patients, but it helps to keep an authoritative drug reference handbook or app handy so you are sharing correct information, as well. And if you know you need to take a certain medication that could affect you, make other arrangements for your transportation. 

6. Educate Tour Young Patients about The Dangers of Distracted Driving.

Teenagers and young adults are statistically more likely to be involved in a distracted driving accident than other drivers. If you have an opportunity to remind them about the importance of safe driving, take it! Remind them about the dangers involved in activities like texting and driving--or grooming and driving or fiddling with the radio and driving. “Encourage parents to discuss distracted driving with their children and tell their children to speak up if they are in a vehicle with a distracted driver,” suggested Carpenter. 

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