The Five Types of Driving Impairment

by | Oct 25, 2021 | Car Accidents

Pure “accidents,” like lightning strikes and wind gusts, cause a handful of the vehicle collisions in Kentucky. However, the vast majority of such incidents are preventable. Indeed, since many of them involve some form of driver impairment, it’s possible to prevent these wrecks before they happen. That idea is the principle behind third-party liability, which is also available in many impairment-related claims. 

This idea also increases the amount of compensation that a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain in these situations. Impaired motorists know they should not drive, yet they choose to get behind the wheel anyway. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.


Despite a decades-long crackdown against “drunk drivers,” alcohol still causes about a third of the fatal car wrecks in Kentucky. The crackdown has stigmatized DUI and made it more costly, but it has not substantially changed peoples’ attitudes. That’s mostly because alcohol impairs judgment ability. So, people are not thinking clearly when they decide to get behind the wheel.

Alcohol also slows motor skills. The combination of slower reactions and impaired judgment might be great at parties, but it’s extremely dangerous for drivers. Furthermore, the impairing effects of alcohol begin at the first drink.

Legally, an alcohol-related wreck could involve the negligence per se doctrine or the ordinary negligence principle. Negligence per se is a violation of a safety law, like the DUI law. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who violate such laws and cause crashes could be liable for damages as a matter of law. 

On the other hand, ordinary negligence is basically a lack of care. Circumstantial evidence on this point includes:

  • Erratic driving before the wreck,
  • Tortfeasor’s statements about alcohol use, such as the infamous “I’ve only had one or two beers,” and
  • Physical symptoms, such as bloodshot eyes and unsteady balance.

This evidence, especially physical symptoms, could also establish vicarious liability in these cases. Bars, restaurants, and other commercial providers could be liable for car wreck damages if they sold alcohol to intoxicated individuals.


Roughly these same legal principles apply to drug impairment cases. Marijuana and prescription pain pills, both of which are at least semi-legal in Kentucky, make up the lion’s share of drug impairment wrecks in the Bluegrass State.

If the tortfeasor was arrested for DUI-drugs, the negligence per se rule could apply. The rule usually applies even if the driver “beats” the DUI in court. In other cases, the ordinary negligence doctrine is available. 

Biologically, things are a little different. As with alcohol, the impairing effects of marijuana usually begin immediately after the first puff. Prescription pain pills, however, usually do not affect people for at least a few minutes or perhaps even several hours. The lingering effects are different as well. Marijuana hits most people like a ton of bricks, then the effect quickly fades. The effects of prescription pain pills usually start slow and then quickly build up. 

Other causes of drug impairment include street drugs, like heroin and cocaine, and over-the-counter medicines, like Sominex and NyQuil.

Third-party liability could be available in a few of these situations. For example, some doctors write prescriptions without asking too many questions.


Many people don’t associate fatigue with alcohol use. Yet the two are closely related. For example, driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. Alcohol, drugs, and fatigue all affect the body and brain in roughly the same way.

However, things are different legally. The negligence per se doctrine is usually unavailable in these situations, unless the tortfeasor was a truck driver. Both Kentucky and the federal government regulate HOS (Hours of Service) in this area. Third-party liability is usually unavailable as well.

Additionally, there are sometimes evidence problems in these claims. Not all police accident report software programs have codes for drowsy or fatigued driver causes.

Nevertheless, largely because the burden of proof is so low in these cases, the ordinary negligence doctrine is generally available. Evidence in this area includes erratic driving prior to the wreck, tortfeasor’s statements about drowsiness, and the time of day or night.

Medical Condition

Numerous medical conditions, such as epilepsy and heart disease, could cause a sudden loss of consciousness. If people lose consciousness while they are behind the wheel, they usually cause an extremely dangerous out-of-control crash.

Because the risk is so high, medical providers usually have a legal duty to report such conditions to authorities, who then suspend the person’s drivers’ license. However, providers don’t always report such conditions, and even if the state does suspend the person’s license, this suspension is usually just temporary.

So, the negligence per se rule may or might not apply to these wrecks. If it is inapplicable, the ordinary negligence doctrine is often available. Third-party liability could be available as well, mostly because the medical misdiagnosis rate is very high regarding such chronic conditions.

Distracted Driving

Device distraction could be a hand-held or a hands-free device. The dangers of hand-held devices are well chronicled in the media. Hands-free gadgets might be even worse. These users take their eyes off the road and take their minds off driving. Furthermore, since hands-free devices give many motorists a false sense of security, these users often take unnecessary risks.

Since Kentucky has a rather broad hands-free law, device distraction could involve ordinary negligence or negligence per se.

Non-device distraction, which is statistically much more common, includes things like eating and drinking while driving. In fact, these behaviors are so common that many jurors do not see them as negligent. So, in addition to evidence of distraction, most victim/plaintiffs must also present evidence of the effects of distraction, such as erratic driving prior to the collision.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available. #goodelawyers