JIM SHARPE

Impaired drivers in Phoenix, elsewhere are not just your ‘daddy’s drunk driver’ anymore

Jul 31, 2023, 2:00 PM

For me, the only thing less shocking than hearing, “Ya know, Phoenix is hot!” — is hearing someone saying about drunk drivers, “It really isn’t just alcohol anymore.”

That’s how Pam Shadel Fischer, with the Governors Highway Safety Association, described a lot of today’s drunk driving to ABC News. She’s referring to people who should be described by a more appropriate term: “multi-substance-impaired drivers.”

People who are most definitely not your “dad’s drunk driver.” 

With pot now legal, people are adding it to their bloodstream’s cocktail — which may already contain a few alcoholic cocktails and/or other legal substances. Legal substances like legitimately needed prescription painkillers. They’re legal to take unless you’re operating heavy machinery (like… hello! …a car!), which can turn a driver into a killer who causes pain.

Since multi-substance-impaired driving is a rising problem, the Governors Highway Safety Association and Responsibility are awarding grants to law enforcement agencies to help their officers recognize signs of driver impairment caused by a long list of substances.

I heard that a Valley company is working on a marijuana detector that’ll work like an alcohol breathalyzer — but for now, cops can only truly determine if a driver is impaired by certain non-alcoholic substances by taking a driver to the hospital and drawing their blood.

The reason multi-substance-impaired drivers isn’t a topic that shocks me (at least not more shocking than hearing, “Phoenix is hot, ya’ll!”) is because I was a multi-substance-impaired driver — before I got sober more than 12 years ago.

Most people I go to recovery meetings with were battling multiple substances when they came to their first meeting. But like me, many have stopped battling those substances, because the Twelve Steps brought relief from our cravings to get messed up — and drive.

While science hasn’t given law enforcement the ability to detect all of the substances that can impair a driver, most of us know when a loved one is living life impaired. 

And we should encourage them to seek help. Or insist they get help by applying a little “tough love.” Tell them they aren’t getting any more money or shelter from us. Or tell them we won’t be in a relationship with them until they get help.

Waiting on science to save us is fool’s errand … especially when (what I call) “the dark arts” of science will continue to invent new, and even more dangerous, drugs that kill our loved ones by overdose or because fate put them in a car that was hit by a multi-substance-impaired driver.

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Jim Sharpe

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Impaired drivers in Phoenix, elsewhere are not just your ‘daddy’s drunk driver’ anymore