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The Five Kinds of Driving Impairment


One or more of the five kinds of impairment listed below causes most of the car crashes in Washington. For many years, nearly everyone used the much more comfortable word  “accidents” to describe these incidents. But people accidentally leave the lights on. They don’t accidentally drive while fatigued and cause wrecks. So, increasingly, “car crash” is the preferred description.

Whether it’s a crash or an accident, a Seattle car accident lawyer has the same responsibilities. An attorney quickly evaluates your case and determines your legal options. Then, once an attorney plans the work, a dedicated legal team diligently works that plan. This simple approach usually produces results that exceed your expectations.

Medical Condition

This increasingly common form of driver impairment could be a moderate medical condition or a serious medical condition.

Cold and flu symptoms like runny nose and watery eyes affect reaction time. When people cannot see or breathe well, their reflexes are slower. Symptoms like headache and fever affect concentration. Instead of thinking about the road, people think about their symptoms. Altogether, a moderate illness could reduce driving abilities by 50 percent.


Serious chronic medical conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, often cause sudden unconsciousness and a sudden loss-of-control collision.

Frequently, sick driving is technically legal, even if a person has epilepsy or another very serious condition. Legal or not, such driving always violates the duty of reasonable care. If a lack of care causes injury, a Seattle personal injury lawyer can obtain compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.


The next form of driver impairment is closely related to moderate illness impairment. Drivers are distracted if they take their:

  • Hands off the wheel (manual distraction),
  • Eyes off the road (visual distraction), and/or
  • Minds off driving (cognitive distraction).

Hand-held cell phones combine all three forms of distraction. That’s the main reason Washington lawmakers recently passed a hands-free law that bans hand-held device use.

Such gadgets aren’t the only cause, or even the leading cause, of distracted driving. Other causes include using a hands-free device (visual and cognitive distraction), eating or drinking while driving, and arguing with passengers while driving.


These kinds of impairment overlap. Drugs are a good example. Many cold and flu medicines have serious side-effects that, when behind the wheel, are just as bad as the cold or flu itself.

Marijuana is, by far, the most common cause of drugged driving wrecks. Prescription pain pills are a rather distant second. Usually, the impairing effects of these drugs begin with the first puff or pill. Immediately following that first puff or pill, and for some time thereafter, the effects are often debilitating.


Drugs sometimes overlap with fatigue. Many truck drivers use amphetamines to stave off the effects of fatigue. These drugs don’t address clouded judgment, slow reflexes, and the other underlying effects of fatigue. They just make users feel more alert for a little while. Once the drugs wear off, amphetamine users often crash fast and hard.

Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for commercial operators in Washington and most other states.


We end this post with the granddaddy of them all. Alcohol is a factor in about a third of the fatal car crashes in Washington.

Like fatigue, alcohol, which is a depressant, clouds judgment and slows reaction time. These impairing effects usually begin with the first drink. If you plan to drive, one drink is one too many.

Alcohol-related wrecks often involve vicarious liability matters. Under RCW 66.44.200, commercial providers cannot sell alcohol to visibly intoxicated customers. If they do so, they could be financially responsible for car crash damages. Because of all these complexities, an inexperienced lawyer should never handle an alcohol-related car crash claim.

Rely on a Dedicated King County Lawyer

Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Seattle, contact the Emerald Law Group. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.


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