Drinking and Driving
Driving while either intoxicated or drunk is dangerous and drivers with high blood alcohol content or concentration (BAC) are at greatly increased risk of car accidents, highway injuries and vehicular deaths. Possible prevention measures examined here include establishing DWI courts, suspending or revoking driver licenses, impounding or confiscating vehicle plates, impounding or immobilizing vehicles, enforcing open container bans, increasing penalties such as fines or jail for drunk driving, and mandating alcohol education. Safety seat belts, air bags, designated drivers, and effective practical ways to stay sober are also discussed.
Drunk driving fatalities in the U.S. recently dropped to historic lows and have declined 41% in ten years.
Three DUI courts in three Georgia coiunties were found effective in sighificantly reducing recidivism of DUI offenders, consistent with other research on DUI and DWI courts.
The dangers of drunk driving are well known. The dangers of distracted driving, such as talking on a cell phone or texting while driving, are increasingly recognized.
The Canadian Criminal Code includes measures to prohibit and punish impaired driving. The Criminal Code also prescribes the procedures to be followed to obtain the evidence necessary for prosecution of these offences.
Alcohol-impaired driving, sometimes called drunk driving, continues to drop in the United States, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is totally preventable. Although the proportion of crashes that are alcohol-related has dropped dramatically in recent decades, there are still far too many such preventable accidents. Unfortunately, in spite of great progress, alcohol-impaired driving remains a serious national problem that tragically effects many victims annually.
It's easy to forget that dry statistics represent real people and real lives. Therefore, this page is dedicated to the memory of one randomly-selected victim of a drunk driver, young Holli Crockett.
Most drivers who have had something to drink have low blood alcohol content or concentration (BAC) and few are involved in fatal crashes. On the other hand, while only a few drivers have BACs higher than .15, a much higher proportion of those drivers have fatal crashes.
- The average BAC among fatally injured drinking drivers is .16 1
- The relative risk of death for drivers in single-vehicle crashes with a high BAC is 385 times that of a zero-BAC driver and for male drivers the risk is 707 times that of a sober driver, according to estimates by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 2
- High BAC drivers tend to be male, aged 25-35, and have a history of DWI convictions and polydrug abuse. 3
Drunk driving, like most other social problems, resists simple solutions. However, there are a number of actions, each of which can contribute toward a reduction of the problem:
- DWI courts, sometimes called DUI courts, sobriety courts, wellness courts or accountability courts have proven effective in reducing the crime of drunken driving (driving while intoxicated or while impaired). Such courts address the problem of hard-core repeat offenders by treating alcohol addiction or alcoholism. The recidivism or failure rate of DWI courts is very low. 4
- Automatic license revocation appears to be the single most effective measure to reduce drunk driving. 5
- Automatic license revocation along with a mandatory jail sentence appears to be even more effective than just automatic license revocation. 6
- Impounding or confiscating license plates. 7
- Mandating the installation of interlock devices that prevent intoxicated persons from starting a vehicle. 8
- Vehicle impoundment or immobilization. 9
- Expanding alcohol server training programs. 10
- Implementing social norms programs that correct the misperception that most people sometimes drive under the influence of alcohol. 11
- Passing mandatory alcohol and drug testing in fatal crashes would promote successful prosecution of drunk and drugged drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 18-20% of injured drivers are using drugs and although drinking is on the decline, drugging is on the increase. However, this figure appears to be much too low. For example:
- A study of drivers admitted to a Maryland trauma center found that 34% tested positive for drugs only, while 16% tested positive for alcohol only. 12
- A study by the Addiction Research Foundation of vehicle crash victims who tested positive for either legal or illegal substances found that just 15% had consumed only alcohol. 13
- In a large study of almost 3,400 fatally injured drivers from three Australian states, drugs other than alcohol were present in 26.7% of the cases. Fewer than 10% of the cases involved both alcohol and drugs. 14
- NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey indicated that in 2004, 12.7% of high school seniors in the U.S. reported driving under the influence of marijuana and 13..2% reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the two weeks prior to the survey. 15
- In the State of Maryland’s Adolescent Survey, 26.8% of the state’s licensed, 12th grade drivers reported driving under the influence of marijuana during the year before the survey. 16
MADD Canada is to be commended for recognizing this serious but generally unrecognized problem and including the reduction of drugged driving as a major goal. Of course, fighting drugged driving must not detract us from working to reduce drunken driving.
Promising but inadequately evaluated measures include:
- Marking the license plate to indicate ownership in the family of someone whose driver's license is suspended or revoked for alcohol offenses. 17
- Passing and enforcing bans on open containers would probably reduce drunk driving by deterring drinking while driving. Surprisingly, some states have vehicular no open container laws. 18
- Imposing graded or multi-tiered penalties based on BAC at the time of arrest. This policy is virtually universal with regard to speeding. 19
- Restricting nighttime driving by young people. This appears to be effective in those states with such restrictions. 20
- Electronically monitoring repeat DWI offenders. 21
- Involving drivers in identifying and reporting possibly drunken drivers to law enforcement authorities by dialing 911 on their cell phones. See Help Police Stop Drunken Drivers
- Requiring every state to provide adequate information on alcohol and driving to prospective drivers and adequately testing them on the subject in their driver's exams. In too many states, the subject is given only brief mention and do not include any information or testing in the process of obtaining a driver's license. Some actually provide factually incorrect information.
All of these very promising measures should be rigorously evaluated scientifically to determine their potential contribution to improving safety.
Measures of little or no value:
- Incarceration. Jail or prison sentences for alcohol offenses, in spite of their great popularity, appear to be of little value in deterring high BAC drivers. In short, it appears that we can’t "jail our way out of the problem." 22
- The perception of swift and certain punishment is more important than severity. 23
- Large fines appear have little deterrent effect, according to research. 24
- Increasing the cost of alcohol with increased taxation would have virtually no impact on reducing drunk driving. 25 Both research and common sense suggest that heavy drinkers are not deterred by cost and most minors who drink don’t pay for or purchase their beverages. 26
Improved roads and vehicles can contribute significantly to increased highway safety. Technological improvements include raised lane markers, which are easier to see and also emit a startling sound when a tire wanders over them. Similarly corrugations along the edges of roads emit a sound when driven over, thus alerting inattentive drivers to their inappropriate location. Wider roads, improved street and highway lighting, break-away sign posts, brake lights positioned at eye level, door crash bars, and many other improvements can save lives and be cost-effective.
While society has done much to improve highway safety, you can do much to protect yourself.
Don't drink and drive and don't ride with anyone who has too much to drink. Remember, it is usually themselves and their passengers who are harmed by drunk drivers. 27 The risk of collision for high BAC drivers is dramatically higher than for a non-drinking driver.
- Volunteer to be a designated driver.
- Always use a safety seat belt.
- Use four-lane highways whenever possible.
- Avoid rural roads.
Avoid travel after midnight (especially on Fridays and Saturdays).
- Drive defensively.
- Choose vehicles with airbags.
- Refer to safety ratings before selecting your next vehicle. See "Buying a Safer Car" (nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/testing/NCAP). "Buying A Safer Car" includes safety ratings of cars, vans, and sport utility vehicles by year, make, and model.
- Never use illegal drugs. Illicit drugs are involved in a large proportion of traffic fatalities.
- Never drive when fatigued. The dangers posed when fatigued are similar to those when intoxicated. A drunk or fatigued driver has slowed reactions and impaired judgment. And a driver who nods off at the wheel has no reactions and no judgment! Drivers who drift off cause about 72,500 injuries and deaths each and every year. 28
- Don't use a car phone, put on make-up, comb your hair, or eat while driving. Drivers using cellular phones are four times more likely to have an accident than other drivers. 29
- Steer clear of aggressive drivers. Aggressive drivers may be responsible for more deaths than drunk drivers.
If you must drive after drinking, stay completely sober: 30
- Don't be fooled. The contents of the typical bottle or can of beer, glass of wine, or liquor drink (mixed drink or straight liquor) each contain virtually identical amounts of pure alcohol. When it comes to alcohol, a drink is a drink is a drink and are all the same to a breathalyzer. 31 For more, visit Standard Drinks.
- Know your limit. If you are not sure, experiment at home with your spouse or some other responsible individual. Explain what you are attempting to learn. Most people find that they can consume one drink per hour without any ill effects. Also, experiment with the Blood Alcohol Educator, which is very informative and useful.
- Eat food while you drink. Food, especially high protein food such as meat, cheese and peanuts, will help slow the absorption of alcohol into your body.
- Sip your drink. If you gulp a drink, you lose the pleasure of savoring its flavors and aromas.
- Don't participate in "chugging" contests or other drinking games.
- Accept a drink only when you really want one. If someone tries to force a drink on you, ask for a non-alcohol beverage instead. If that doesn't work, "lose" your drink by setting it down somewhere and leaving it.
- Skip a drink now and then. Having a non-alcoholic drink between alcoholic ones will help keep your blood alcohol content level down, as does spacing out your alcoholic drinks
- A good general guideline for most people is to limit
consumption of alcohol beverages to one drink (beer, wine or spirits) per hour.
- Keep active; don't just sit around and drink. If you stay active you tend to drink less and to be more aware of any effects alcohol may be having on you.
- Beware of unfamiliar drinks. Some drinks, such as zombies and other fruit drinks, can be deceiving as the alcohol content is not detectable. Therefore, it is difficult to space them properly.
- Use alcohol carefully in connection with pharmaceuticals. Ask your physician or pharmacist about any precautions or prohibitions and follow any advice received.
- Volunteer to be a designated driver.
- Never condone or approve of excessive alcohol consumption. Intoxicated behavior is potentially dangerous and never amusing.
- Don't ever let your friends drive drunk. Take their keys, have them stay the night, have them ride home with someone else, call a cab, or do whatever else is necessary - but don't let them drive!
Be a good host:
- Create a setting conducive to easy, comfortable socializing: soft, gentle music; low levels of noise; comfortable seating. This encourages conversation and social interaction rather than heavy drinking.
- Serve food before beginning to serve drinks. This de-emphasizes the importance of alcohol and also sends the message that intoxication is not desirable.
- Have a responsible bartender. If you plan to ask a friend or relative to act as bartender, make sure that person is not a drink pusher who encourages excessive consumption.
- Don't have an "open bar." A responsible person needs to supervise consumption to ensure that no one drinks too much. You have both a moral and a legal responsibility to make sure that none of your guests drink too much.
- Pace the drinks. Serve drinks at regular reasonable intervals. A drink-an-hour schedule is a good guide.
- Push snacks. Make sure that people are eating.
- Be sure to offer a diversity of attractive non-alcohol drinks. (For numerous non-alcohol drink recipes, see www.drinksmixer.com/cat/8/).
- Respect anyone's choice not to drink. Remember that about one-third of American adults choose not to drink and that a guest's reason for not drinking is the business of the guest only, not of the host. Never put anyone on the defense for not drinking.
- End your gathering properly. Decide when you want the party to end and stop serving drinks well before that time. Then begin serving coffee along with substantial snacks. This provides essential non-drinking time before your guests leave.
- Protect others and yourself by never driving if you think, or anyone else thinks, that you might have had too much to drink. It's always best to use a designated driver.
THE GOOD NEWS
We can do it! While we must do even more to reduce drunk driving, we have already accomplished a great deal.
- Alcohol-related traffic fatalities have dropped from 60% of all traffic deaths in 1982 down to 31% in 2010. 34
- Alcohol-related traffic fatalities per vehicle miles driven have also dropped dramatically -- from 1.64 deaths per 100 million miles traveled in 1982 down to 0.45 in 2006 (the latest year for which such statistics are available). 35
- The proportion of alcohol-related crash fatalities has fallen 52% since 1982, but the proportion of traffic deaths NOT associated with alcohol has jumped 78% during the same time. We're clearly winning the battle against alcohol-related traffic deaths. 36
We can and must do even better
Remember, don't ever, ever drive if you, or anyone else, thinks that you may have had too much to drink. And don't let anyone else. That includes reporting drivers who may be drunk. It's always safest not to drink and drive.
NOTE: The "Drink Safely" (thumb up) designs is a registered trademark of Coors Brewing Company and used with its permission.
Filed Under: Drinking and Driving