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Nov/Dec 2013 Issue

Drunk drivers put others at risk, especially during the holidays

The holiday season kicks off at Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year’s Day, and mixed within this festive period are some of the most dangerous days of the year for drunk driving deaths.

Thanksgiving Eve, sometimes referred to as “Black Wednesday” is unofficially considered the busiest bar night of the year. And statistics show that during Christmas and New Year’s, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes than during comparable periods the rest of the year.

“If you have one drink, that’s one drink too many to be behind the wheel,” said Lt. J.B. Slaton of the Louisiana State Police, adding that police have zero tolerance for drunk driving.

Yet when drivers get behind the wheel after they have been drinking, they risk more than their own lives. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that more than one-third of the people killed when an alcohol-impaired driver crashes are not the impaired drivers.

“People need to realize that they’re not the only ones who can be affected when they drink and drive,” said Slaton. Other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians die tragically because of drunk drivers, he said.

In fact, NHTSA data shows that every three hours, a drunk-driving crash claims the life of someone who was not the impaired driver:

  • In 2011, 3,371 people were killed in drunk driving crashes who were not the drunk driver
  • 1,612 were passengers in a drunk driver’s vehicle, many of them too young to drive, including 91 children under 15.
  • 1,049 were motorists of other vehicles involved in a crash with a drunk driver
  • 710 were pedestrians or bicyclists
  • 6,507 were the drunk drivers themselves

Slaton advises people to plan ahead to designate a non-drinking driver before holiday parties and to not hesitate to take the keys from friends or family who may be impaired.

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Law enforcement conducts more saturation patrols and DUI checkpoints during the holidays.

 

Myths about drinking and driving

MYTH: I know when I’m too drunk to drive. I have a high tolerance and drinking doesn’t affect me much.

FACT: Your driving skills can be seriously compromised even when your behavior is not observably “drunk.” Alcohol causes impairment in reaction time, attention, tracking, comprehension, and other skills essential for safe driving. Even when attempting to drive carefully, an impaired driver cannot compensate for those reduced abilities. In addition, alcohol affects your ability to judge whether or not you are impaired.

MYTH: If I drink a lot of water or coffee, or if I exercise after I drink, I can sober up to drive home.

FACT: The liver processes alcohol at the same speed regardless of any “cures” a person might try. Time is the only way to get alcohol out of your system.

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Concern about dangerous driving behaviors declines

Americans are less likely to perceive a serious threat from dangerous driving behaviors such as drunk, aggressive, or drowsy driving, according to an analysis of four years of public surveys conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The decreased concern is accompanied by an estimated 5.3 percent hike in annual traffic fatalities, totaling more than 34,000 in 2012. This is the first increase in seven years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Motorists may be growing more complacent about potential safety risks behind the wheel,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, adding that drivers need to take these risks seriously.

Survey results during the previous four years show decreasing concern for dangerous driving behaviors:

  • The number of people who believe driving after drinking is a serious threat declined from 90 percent in 2009 to 69 percent in 2012.
  • The number of people who believe that texting or e-mailing while driving is a very serious threat declined from 87 percent in 2009 to 81 percent in 2012. The number of people who admit to texting while driving increased from 21 percent to 26 percent in the same period.
  • The number of people who consider red-light running to be completely unacceptable declined from 77 percent in 2009 to 70 percent in 2012. More than one-third (38 percent) admitted to running a red light within the previous month.

 


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