The Five Types of Driving Impairment

Every year, car crashes kill or seriously injure millions of Americans. A few of these incidents are one-off accidents, such as a dad who turns around to yell at his kids at exactly the wrong moment. But most of these injuries involve one of the five types of driving impairment, as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If the car crash victim sustained a serious injury, substantial compensation may be available. This compensation includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Often times, if the victim’s vehicle is not drivable after the crash, the victim sustained a serious injury under New York law.



The legal crackdown against drunk drivers began in the early 1990s. Yet alcohol is still a factor in about a third of the fatal crashes in New York. That proportion is essentially unchanged since the 1980s.

Most people must consume at least three or four drinks to become intoxicated. But an impairment of one’s driving abilities starts with the first sip of alcohol. This substance impairs motor skills and clouds judgment.

Alcohol-related crash victims may use both direct and circumstantial evidence to establish liability. If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was arrested for DUI, the tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law. In other cases, victim/plaintiffs may use evidence like erratic driving, bloodshot eyes, and odor of alcohol to establish liability for damages.



Alcohol and tiredness affect the brain in the same way. Both these things slow reaction times, make multitasking difficult or impossible and impede reasoning ability. In fact, driving for more than 18 hours without rest is equivalent to driving with a BAC of .05 percent. That’s above the legal limit in some cases.

There are other similarities as well, such as the cure for alcohol impairment and fatigue. To be sure, nothing will stop the effects of alcohol but for a time; nothing will stop the effects of drowsiness (safely, that is) but for sleep. Stopgap tricks, like drinking coffee or rolling down the windows, are largely ineffective.



The smartphone era has created a virtual tidal wave of distracted driving cases. Hand-held cell phones combine all three types of distracted driving, which are:

  • Cognitive (taking one’s mind away from the road),
  • Manual (taking a hand off the wheel), and
  • Visual (taking one’s eyes away from the road).

Driving without using one’s hands, and instead using a Bluetooth device, could be even more dangerous. These gadgets are cognitively and visually distracting. Furthermore, they often provide drivers with a sense that they’re being “safe” because their hands are on the wheel, even though this isn’t the case.



In many jurisdictions, there are more “drugged” drivers than “drunk” drivers. Street drugs, like LSD and cocaine, cause a few drug-related crashes. The jury is still out on the marijuana driving impairment question. But more often, these cases involve prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl. It’s usually legal to take these drugs, but it is very dangerous to operate heavy machinery, like a car, while taking them.

Direct evidence of drug impairment, like a blood test, is often unavailable. So, the victim/plaintiff must rely on circumstantial evidence, like glassy eyes, current prescriptions, or open pill bottles.


Medical Condition

Some people have illnesses which may cause sudden and unexpected loss of consciousness. Common conditions include:

  • Epilepsy
  • TIA (transient ischemic attack) or mini-strokes
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Other times, the medical condition is a permanent impairment, such as the need for corrective lenses while driving.

Tortfeasors who disregard dangerous medical conditions or permanent impairments and cause crashes may be liable for damages as a matter of law.


Contact an Experienced Manhattan Car Accident Attorney

Impaired drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Manhattan car accident lawyer in New York, contact Michael J. Redenburg Esq. P.C. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.