Don't Drink and Drive

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports that alcohol related traffic fatalities occur every 31 minutes in the United States today, and alcohol related non-fatal injuries occur on our roads every 2 minutes. Other drugs, like cocaine or marijuana, are involved in some 18% of vehicle driver deaths. What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe on the roads? A lot.


Myths about Alcohol and Sobering Up

Many of us have heard that coffee, exercise, fresh air or a shower will sober you up. Food will not soak up alcohol. The simple answer? No, none of these will lower your blood alcohol level or sober you up at all. The only thing that will sober you up is time, around one hour per drink for most men, and somewhat longer for women. Women typically require longer to metabolize alcohol due to smaller body size and limited production of alcohol dehydrogenase, which metabolizes alcohol. A drink is a shot of hard alcohol, a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer or light beer. Many mixed drinks are actually several drinks. It takes much less alcohol to impair driving than many people think. Just three drinks spread over a couple of hours can be enough to raise your blood alcohol over the legal limit and make you a very unsafe driver.


The Affects of Alcohol

While we all know that alcohol may make you loud, silly, affectionate or playful, it also slows reaction time. Many organs and body systems and senses are impacted by alcohol. Let us consider just one sense, vision. Alcohol slows your ability to focus back and forth from images near and far. It also relaxes the muscles in the eyes, blurring vision. The impact of alcohol on coordination can cause double vision, and damage your distance perception. Night vision, peripheral vision and color perception are all also weakened by alcohol consumption. Comprehension of situations on the road and attention to detail while driving will also be reduced after consuming alcohol. Reflexes, including your ability to turn the wheel, control the accelerator, and control the break will be dramatically slowed. If you have been drinking, you are a danger to yourself and others on the road.


What Can You Do?

You can, first and foremost, avoid driving after drinking yourself. If you expect to be drinking, designate a driver, plan to stay the night, or make arrangements for a sober ride home from a friend or cab. All of these are safe options. Many bars offer free non-alcoholic beverages for a designated driver, and perhaps you and friends can take turns driving. If you find yourself intoxicated and did not plan for it, take a cab home or call a friend or family member for a ride. Many cities even offer free cab rides home if you find yourself in this position.

It is also important to create a social environment that is not conducive to driving under the influence. Do not allow friends and acquaintances to drive after drinking. Volunteer to be a designated driver. If you are planning a party, be certain to offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and consider collecting keys at the beginning of the evening. It is everyone's responsibility to prevent driving under the influence, and whether you are simply out with a friend or hosting a party, you owe it to your friends and anyone else on the roads to keep them off the roads.

Educating your children about driving under the influence is another critical element in keeping unsafe drivers off the road. Share information about driving under the influence with your teens, be certain that they understand that they are neither to drive nor accept a ride from a driver under the influence. Let them know that you will always come and get them, and provide a safe ride if needed.

Education of both young people and adults is critical to reduce and prevent driving under the influence. If we all work to create a social environment in which driving under the influence is absolutely unacceptable, traffic fatalities and injuries due to impaired drivers will drop, making the roads safer for all of us.


Changes in the Law

Every state in the country is actively working to combat the problem of driving under the influence. The legal limit for blood alcohol content is now 0.08% all around the country. Penalties for driving under the influence have been made harsher over time, in an attempt to reduce the number of alcohol related traffic fatalities and injuries. Even with education, social efforts, and legal penalties, on weekend nights between 1:00 and 6:00 A.M., one out of every 7 drivers is still legally impaired. Continuing efforts to stop irresponsible drinking and driving behaviors are critical to keep everyone safe on our roads.