Why December? With 11 other months of the year to choose from, why was December declared National Impaired Driving Prevention Month by President Obama in 2010? Easy answer. The holiday season puts drivers fueled by alcohol or drugs behind the wheel in greater numbers than at other times of the year. Whether the substance abuse is all dressed up in festive party cloths, or cloaked in a sense of seasonal sadness and loss, alcohol and drugs are plentiful this time of year, and find themselves on the roads. In 2010 when Obama’s official proclamation was made, statistics showed that US adults drank too much and got behind the wheel about 112 million times that year, and that alcohol-impaired drivers were involved in about 1 in 3 crash deaths, resulting in over 10,000 deaths in 2010.
The goal of National Impaired Driving Prevention Month is to raise awareness of the fatal consequences of driving under the influence. Thousands die on our nation’s roads each year because of drunk, drugged, or distracted (please put down the cell phones and stop the texting!) driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. That’s one death every 48 minutes. Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18% of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol.” With the holiday pressure to be happy, or medicate the fact that we’re not happy, drunk/drugged driving crashes are most prevalent at this time of year. Even if you’re sober yourself, the roads are filled others who are driving while impaired.
If you can’t imagine the holidays without a drink or a drug to lift your spirits, or simply “get you through the season”, that may be a subject for another day. (You may want to consider if you abuse alcohol or drugs? Is it causing problems in your life? Are you unable to stop using? Are you an addict? An alcoholic? If you’re ready to reach out for help – for alcohol intervention or a drug rehab in Massachusetts, congratulations!) Right now, the immediate issue is how to keep you, if you’re using, and other impaired drivers, off the roads.
For the holidays, and every other day of the year, here are a few simple guidelines to keep you and those you love from driving while under the influence.
1) Designate a sober driver before the celebration begins.
2) Don’t let your friends drive impaired. Take their keys away.
3) If you have been drinking or using drugs, get a ride home or call a taxi.
4) If you’re hosting the event, never serve alcohol to those under the age of 21.
5) Plan safe parties. Alcohol isn’t the only way to make the holidays “merry and bright”. If you’re throwing the party, provide non-alcoholic drinks. If you’re a guest, bring your own non-alcoholic drink.
6) Don’t serve alcohol during the last hour of the gathering.
7) Have a plan to get anyone who is under the influence home safely. Remind your guests to plan ahead and designate their sober driver. Make sure all guest leave with a sober driver.
Let’s talk about alcohol for a minute. With zero tolerance laws in place, alcohol impaired drivers – if they’re still alive at the end of the night – face serious legal actions and punishments. When a driver is pulled over for unsafe driving and alcohol is suspect, law enforcement officers will measure the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) using a breath, blood or urine test. A breathscan kit gives police a quick, accurate measure of the driver’s BAC.
If a driver’s BAC is over the legal limit of 0.08, his/her driver’s license may be suspended or revoked for anywhere from a week to years. The offender’s car may need to carry a specially marked license plate, or even an interlock device to keep the car from starting unless the driver passes a breath scan. Following an arrest for drunk driving, the car can even be impounded, confiscated or sold.
A convicted drunk driver also faces fines (sometimes in the thousands of dollars), jail time, increased insurance costs, attorney fees, court costs, lost time from work, and other penalties that vary from state to state. Underage drunk drivers can lose their license for a full year if they’re found to have consumed even small amounts of alcohol.
Zero tolerance laws are even tougher on underage drunk drivers. Young adults, under 21 years of age, can lose their license for a full year if they are found to have consumed even a small amount of alcohol. If a person under age 21 tests over the legal limit of 0.08, he can be arrested, convicted of drunk driving and tried as an adult.
Although drunk drivers face punishments as serious as jail time, the consequences of their actions do not generally deter them from getting behind the wheel. The sad reality is that addiction trumps reason. Even the threat of harsh consequences can’t keep a person who physically needs to use away from a drink or a drug. For the addict, alcohol intervention services and drug rehab in Massachusetts may be the only answer. We are fortunate that there are so many excellent treatment programs right here in our area, including Right Turn, “A Creative Approach to Recovery” from alcohol and drugs, located in Arlington, MA. If you’re struggling with addiction this season, the best gift you can give yourself is sobriety. Until then, give yourself and others the gift of safety on the roads. Please don’t drive if you’re impaired.