FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Army News Service, June 13, 2007) - In February, two Soldiers died in a rollover accident in Iraq when the Humvee they were operating rolled into a canal. Though the Soldiers drowned, preliminary reports suggest they were driving under the influence ... but not of alcohol.

Driving under the influence doesn't always involve drinking alcohol. Drugs and other items can impair drivers and render them incapable of safely operating vehicles, as is the case in this report.

Initial findings from the accident suggest the Soldiers "huffed" before driving the government vehicle. Huffing is a term used to describe the action of intentionally inhaling aerosols or chemical vapors to attain a "high" or gain some euphoric effect. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs, aerosols, chemical vapors and other items used to obtain this feeling act on the brain and alter perception, balance, coordination and other motor skills required for safe driving.

With new enforcement measures now in place to detect such hazardous practices, incidents of drugged driving are on the rise, according to Sergeant Danny Lamm of the Impaired Driving Unit at the California Highway Patrol academy.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16,000 people are killed annually because of drunk and drugged driving. NHTSA also estimates that drugs are used by about 10 to 22 percent of drivers involved in accidents, often in combination with alcohol.

Prescription, over-the-counter, illicit and unrecognized drugs all have potential reactions with alcohol. The NIDA reports that drugged driving is a public health concern because it also places passengers and others who share the road at risk.

In March a Soldier was traveling with two other Soldiers when he reportedly lost control of his privately owned vehicle and crashed into a tree. However, reports indicate that a backseat passenger reached forward and grabbed the steering wheel.

Impaired judgment, uncoordinated body movements, blurred vision and slurred speech are just a few of the effects alcohol and drugs have on people.

In fiscal 2006, an Army captain died in Iowa after losing control of his motorcycle, slamming into a chain-link fence and tumbling end-over-end more than a dozen times. The investigation revealed that he was driving under the influence. His blood alcohol concentration was .289, and he chose to leave the bar without wearing a helmet.

"Soldiers must take care of each other and battle to stay in the fight," said Lt. Col. Randall K. Cheeseborough, chief ground task force for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. "Develop a plan of attack before heading out for a night on the town, and make sound decisions before drinking."

"The use of battle buddies, designated drivers and taxis are cheaper than the cost of a DUI or fatality," Lt. Col. Cheeseborough added. "Though Soldiers can face punishment by their chain of command, the ultimate loss could be that of a life. What influence would you rather drive under'"

For more information on drunk or drugged driving awareness and prevention, visit <a href="http://www.madd.org"target=_blank> www.madd.org</a> or <a href="http://www.nida.nih.gov"target=_blank> www.nida.nig.gov</a>.

(Lori Yerdon writes for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center.)

Page last updated Wed June 13th, 2007 at 10:40