Each year, more than 10,000 people, about 1,000 of them children, lose their lives on America’s roadways due to drunk driving. That’s about 1/3 of all traffic-related deaths. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking and driving kills nearly 30 people every day in the US or about one person every 50 minutes.
Car accidents involving intoxicated drivers happen even more often during the holidays, when social binge-drinking is more accepted and prevalent. Increased drinking at holiday parties and gatherings leads to an uptick in impaired drivers on the road and a higher risk for alcohol-related accidents. So, even if you drive sober, there’s a greater chance you’ll be sharing the road with other drivers who are not.
During the winter holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, 40 percent of highway deaths are alcohol related. During the same period, there’s an estimated 25,000 injuries from alcohol-related accidents. Curiously, a quarter of the profits for the $49 billion alcohol industry are made during this same time span.
While the risk for encountering a drunk driver is higher throughout the holiday season, New Year’s Day is the most dangerous holiday to be on the road, with 58 percent of car accidents being alcohol related. During the month of December, 28 percent of fatal car accidents involve intoxicated drivers. An average of 300 people are killed in drunk-driving accidents during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Alcohol impairs by affecting key skills needed for driving. It slows your reflexes, which can decrease your ability to quickly react to changing situations. It can alter your visual perception and even cause blurry vision. It can impact your ability to judge your car’s position on the road. Alcohol can affect your concentration, coordination and decision-making capability as well.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC), also called blood alcohol content or blood alcohol limit, is the percentage of alcohol in your blood after you’ve been drinking. In 49 of 50 states and Washington DC, you are considered legally drunk if you have a BAC of 0.08 percent or above. But in Utah, the BAC limit is 0.05 percent. Any detectable blood alcohol concentration is a violation in people under 21.
Many factors contribute to how fast you reach a BAC of 0.08 percent. Your weight, body fat percentage, hydration, digestion and the way alcohol affects you, as well as the length of time you’ve been drinking, all affect how quickly you become impaired.
But generally speaking, a 180-pound man can reach a BAC of 0.08 percent after four drinks and a 120-pound woman can reach it after just two drinks. A standard “drink” is defined as one shot of liquor, a five-ounce glass of wine or one 12-ounce beer.
Even if you don’t kill anyone, driving while intoxicated will impact your life in many ways and cost you big time. If you’re arrested for a DUI or DWI, you could face the suspension of your driver’s license, jail time – up to a year for a first offense in some states – and thousands of dollars in fines and court costs. When all is said and done, alcohol-impaired drivers cost the US about $132 billion each year.
The fact of the matter is 100 percent of alcohol-related fatalities and injuries are preventable. The bottom line: there are no excuses. If you drink, don’t drive!
Try these common-sense tips for a safe holiday season:
- If you plan to drink at a holiday gathering, line up a sober driver.
- If you don’t have a designated driver, call a cab, ride-sharing service or friend to take you home at the end of the event.
- Consider spending the night at a nearby hotel or motel that you can walk to if you have more than a few drinks.
- Eat food and drink water while you’re consuming alcoholic beverages. Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
- Even if you only feel a little buzzed, you’re impaired. Get a ride with a sober driver or call a cab.
If you’re hosting a holiday gathering, follow these recommendations:
- Serve a variety of food and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as coffee.
- Avoid providing salty snacks. They make your guests drink more.
- Don’t make alcohol the main attraction at the party.
- Stop serving alcohol one to two hours before the event ends.
- Keep an eye on your guests. If someone is visibly intoxicated, don’t serve them any more alcohol.
- Don’t let drinking guests drive. Take their keys and be sure a sober driver, cab or ride-sharing service takes them home.