What does the term "impaired driving" mean to you? If you're like many, drinking and driving comes to mind quickest. But impairment is a term that characterizes any similar insufficiency. Webster's 2nd New Riverside Dictionary, Revised, defines "impair" as "harm, diminish in strength, value quality, quantity." So, anything that does these things to your driving capabilities "impairs" your ability to drive. At the top of my list are the physical things that prevent you from being at your best while exercising your privilege to drive. There are times when you shouldn't drive. Recognizing WHEN this applies to you is perhaps the toughest part. Our nature is to say, "Sure, I'm OK to drive," but the fact is there are times when we're NOT up to the job -- and shouldn't. Know when to say no.
A few years ago, a local man suffered a broken leg. His leg was placed in a large cast and he probably was told not to drive. But there were places to go, and he figured that with the help of a stick (to operate the accelerator pedal), he could manage. What happened next was predictable - he lost control of his vehicle, it jumped a curb, ran over a nearby phone booth, and killed a man who was in the phone booth, because the driver didn't recognize when he was not capable of operating a vehicle safely.
Even minor illnesses can prevent our ability to think clearly, and affect the motor skills we need to keep control of a vehicle. A severe headache can affect your vision, for example. The temporary loss of the use of a limb should cause us to make sure we leave the driving to someone else - at least one person would be alive today had it not been for someone who wasn't aware it was important to think about that. Pain caused by the flu or other illnesses, even minor ones, can impair our ability to function effectively as drivers.
Some of our physical disabilities are preventable -- poor vision for example. Some of us shouldn't drive without the use of glasses or contacts. In some states this is taken seriously enough that it is a criminal offense to drive without them if your license is noted with a requirement for vision correction. While adequate hearing is not a requirement for a driver license, if you have hearing problems that can be corrected with hearing aids, make sure to wear them. While non-hearing people learn to compensate for their inability to hear and can drive safely, the same may not be true for a person who has not learned to compensate -- and hearing is an important sense for most of us when it comes to driving. Finally, think about those medications you are taking -- some of them will affect your ability to operate motor vehicles. Especially if a medication is new to you, be very careful until you know exactly how it will affect you.
Be skeptical of your own complacency -- if you are thinking "no problem," then give it a second, more critical thought and make sure you know for sure. It's never worth making a mistake when lives are at stake -- whether yours or someone else's.
Keep the shiny side up!