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July 28, 2014
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Have a Merry Christmas: Don’t drink and drive

By Paul Matwiow, M.Div., LMHC, CASAC

I can hear it already—readers saying, “Oh no, not another ‘don’t drink and drive’ message. Banging that drum again!” Sorry, but as long as drinking and driving remains a problem, this is a drum that will need to be banged. Yes, indeed, “The life you save may be your own,” or your child’s.

The good news is that with increased education and enforcement, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities have declined 35% over the last two decades, and among our nation’s under-21 population, such fatalities have declined 58%. Last year 41 states had decreases in the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. Consumption rates nationally and among those under the legal drinking age showed marked decreases in 2011, reaching historic low levels.

Still, the drinking/driving problem persists.

Here are some sobering facts:

In 2011 there were approximately 950,000 DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) offenses. Out of those, one third were repeat offenders. At the same time, there were 32,367 drinking/driving fatalities in the U.S. Research indicates that one in 10 drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and that the number of impaired drivers on the roads increases dramatically at night and during weekends and holidays.

So perhaps a little alcohol education at this time of year when alcohol consumption rises is useful. In New York State, a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .06 gets you a DUI; a BAC of .08 gets you a DWI. Each drink raises your BAC .02, so three drinks gets you a BAC of .06 and eligibility for a DUI. You metabolize approximately one drink per hour, so if you had three drinks in one hour it would take approximately three hours to get rid of all the alcohol in your system. Drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, doing jumping jacks will do nothing to decrease your BAC; only time will do that. (Note that “one drink” is measured as follows: one 12-oz. can beer, one 5-oz. glass of wine, one 1.5-oz. shot of 80 proof liquor; all have the same amount of alcohol and each would raise your BAC to approximately .02.)

Research shows that impairment begins long before BAC levels reach DUI/DWI levels. Impairment begins with the first drink. Judgment, reflex times, visual acuity, depth perception, ability to track moving objects (cars), ability to focus, all begin to be affected, although the person may not subjectively notice these effects initially. Oddly, the law allows people (over 21) to drive with BAC levels under .06; so if you had two drinks and you drove with a .04 BAC, you are within legal limits. But are you really okay? You are driving with some degree of impairment even though you may not feel a “buzz.” It is not a question of whether you are within legal limits; it’s a question of whether or not it is safe to drive when you have consumed any amount of alcohol. The answer is simple—no.

In addition to the whole issue of safe and responsible driving, consider the monetary cost of getting a DUI/DWI. According to research the average American will spend approximately $750 on holiday gifts this year. The amount spent by the person who gets a first time DUI/DWI this holiday season can top $10,000. Fines and legal fees add up quickly, including the possibility of evaluation fees, increased insurance premiums, possible ignition interlock installation fees, fees for participation in a Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) drinking/driving program, a fee for attendance at the Victims Impact Panel and more. Drinking and driving—the $10,000 mistake.

If you plan on drinking during the holidays, have a designated driver who is not drinking at all, or take a taxi, or arrange to stay over. Plan ahead because once you start to drink, your thinking is impaired. Someone who says, “I would never drink and drive,” thinks differently after one or two drinks and gets behind the wheel. Make definite arrangements in advance to insure you won’t drive.

Drive safely, drive sober, be part of the solution and not part of the problem, and enjoy your holidays!