The holiday season – specifically, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – is considered “one of the deadliest and most dangerous” times to drive in the United States. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, this is due to an increase in impaired driving.
Have you ever left a party, pulled the car keys out of your pocket, and questioned, “Am I OK to drive?” Have you ever convinced yourself you’ll be fine, when deep down you felt otherwise? Do you anticipate this happening with all the festivities this month? You are not alone. But here’s something to consider:
Every day, close to 30 Americans die in crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. And during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, that number rises to almost 43 lives taken each day. In that week alone, an average of 300 people are killed in car accidents caused by an impaired driver.
In light of National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, which is recognized every December, Turnbridge is taking some time to recognize the risks of impaired driving, and to share the tell-tale signs that someone is “too drunk” or “too high” to drive. Whether you are hosting or attending parties this season, we also offer tips for how to keep you and your loved ones safe.
What is Impaired Driving?
Impaired driving means that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been compromised in some way. Typically, impaired driving is synonymous with “driving under the influence,” meaning your ability to drive has diminished due to drug or alcohol use.
There are many risks of impaired driving, the most obvious being that it can take lives. In 2016 alone, alcohol-impaired driving killed close 10,500 Americans (28% of all traffic related deaths). That same year, 44% of drivers involved in fatal car accidents tested positive for drugs.
Alcohol and drugs affect the brain in very similar ways, changing a person’s ability to make sound decisions. These substances also diminish a person’s coordination, concentration, visual function, response times, and ability to multi-task—all of which are needed to drive safely. After 2-3 drinks, for example, the CDC reports that users will experience:
- Impaired judgement
- Loss of small muscle control
- Reduced coordination
- Lowered alertness
- Reduced response to emergency situations
- Decline in ability to perform two tasks at once
Driving while drunk, or driving while high, as a result, can lead to unsafe roadways.
Am I OK to Drive?
Of course, we all know the obvious signs of intoxication: slurred speech, lack of coordination, difficulty forming sentences or thoughts. However, you shouldn’t wait for these signs to determine you’re “too drunk” or “too high” to drive. Signs that you really should not drive include:
- You’ve asked the question. You asked, “Am I too drunk to drive?” or “Am I too high to drive?” If you are questioning your safety or ability, then that in itself should stop you from getting behind the wheel.
- You’ve had 2 or more alcoholic drinks. This may not seem like a lot of drinks to you, but it is enough to impair your driving skills and get you in trouble with the law.
- You’ve used drugs. Driving under the influence of any drug is strictly prohibited in most states. (Yes, even marijuana, and even in states where it is legal.) According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drugged driving is illegal in every state across the nation. This is because everyone reacts differently to drugs, and no one can truly predict the effect that drugs will have on their brain, body, or driving skills. According to the CDC, marijuana users are about 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use.
- You don’t feel “right.” If you feel off in any way – tired, nauseous, emotional (all common effects of drinking and drug use) – you should not get in the car. Alcohol specifically is a depressant that can cause a variety of ups and downs, as well as drowsiness—all of which can lead to irrational decisions and lack of ability on the roadways. Listen to yourself and your body, and be honest with yourself if you do not feel like your normal self.
If you are concerned that a friend is too drunk or too high to drive, trust your judgement. You have watched your friend drink, or use, and you have a good idea of when their safety is at risk. Keep a count of your friends drinks, keep an eye on their behaviors throughout the evening, question their memory and coordination, and take their keys away if you have any concerns. Drugs and driving can be –and can lead to—a dangerous collision.
Holiday Safety Tips
First, it is important to consider the short- and long-term effects of alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs chemically alter a person’s mental state, and comprises their ability to rationalize, think about potential consequences, and make good decisions as a result. Even if a person appears sober (and even if you feel totally sober), keep in mind that alcohol and drugs do not always have obvious effects. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before a person shows overt signs of intoxication.”
After an evening of partying, it’s also easy to misjudge how long the effects of the drugs or alcohol will last. It’s not uncommon for people to believe that they will “sober up” once they stop drinking. The truth is, drugs and alcohol can remain in the bloodstream for several hours, and will continue to affect the brain (and the body) as a result. This translates to hours of impaired coordination and reaction time, not to mention high blood alcohol content.
If you are planning on drinking while out and about, consider alternative modes of transportation. (If you are hosting a holiday gathering, encourage your guests to do so, as well.) Today, we have the option to take Ubers, Lyfts, and other taxi services. If you do not have access to these, find a designated driver that you can trust—or be one!
And if you are a parent, specifically a parent of a young driver, be sure to set a good example. Understand the risks of impaired driving and the heightened risks among teens. It is also important to be aware of the underage drinking laws in your area, and to ensure your teen understands them. Because teens and young adults are less experienced drivers, and more prone to make impulsive decisions (due to their age), it is very important to keep them as safe as possible behind the wheel.
The key to staying safe this season is planning ahead. Plan to have a designated driver, plan to use a rideshare service, or plan to stay home and stay off the roads. For information about staying sober during the holidays, you can visit us here. To learn about Turnbridge and our treatment programs, please call 877-581-1793.