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Drive Safely, Take Care During the Holidays

Breaking News - December 2005 - Week 4

(Dec 28, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- Americans consider driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs the nation's greatest highway safety problem, according to a 2005 Gallup poll.

Picture of a MADD sign

Experts working to counter this problem focus on December, which is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.

This marks the time for holiday parties as safety advocates try to get the word out that driving while impaired can be deadly for you, your loved ones, or that person on the road you have never met.

Perception and Awareness Varies

Thirty-seven percent of the persons who responded to the poll called drunk driving the worst problem, followed by speeding at 27 percent.

But 60 percent of those same people admitted they had driven a vehicle while drunk or near-drunk, up from 57 percent in 2000.

That is why drunk-driving opponents say they still have a lot of work to do to make America's highways safer, despite the growing public perception of the threats posed by intoxicated motorists.

"The poll clearly shows this is a major concern, especially during the holidays because of increased drinking and increased driving," says Glynn Birch, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which co-sponsored the survey with Nationwide Insurance.

The poll did have one piece of good news that provides a ray of hope, notes Birch.

Nearly one in five drivers, 17 percent, say they had encouraged someone not to drive in the past week because it looked like they had too much to drink, he says.

And of those who spoke up, three in every four were successful in preventing someone from drinking and driving.

"When you do see someone is questionable, say, 'Hey, let me drive, or let someone else drive,'" says Birch. "The poll is encouraging that they will say, 'OK, here's the key.'"

Impaired driving is not a trivial concern. In 2003 in the US, 1,579 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Through the whole year, nearly 17,000 people were killed by drunk or impaired driving, an average of one every 30 minutes.

Plan Ahead for Safety

Planning is key to being a safe driver during the holidays, or hosting a safe party, says Heidi Coleman, chief of the Impaired Driving Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"We're not saying adults should never drink, but that they should have a safe way home," Coleman says.

That means either arranging to stay the night, taking a cab, or deciding early in the evening which person will stay sober and drive.

And that person needs to stay sober, Coleman says, not try to sober up at the end of the evening.

"You should know who is going to be the sober designated driver," says Coleman. "You don't want a situation where the least-impaired person is driving."

If you are going to drink, you should make sure you eat some food to help absorb the alcohol, says Birch. A party's host should make sure to provide lots of food, as well as non-alcoholic beverages for designated drivers.

Always consult your physician for more information.


For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.


Tips for New Year's Eve

Guests and hosts also should know some basic facts about both drinking and sobering up, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving:

  • Coffee will not speed up sobriety. Only time can make a person sober.
  • Beer and wine are just as intoxicating as hard liquor. A 12-ounce can of beer, a five-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce wine cooler and an ounce-and-a-half of liquor contain the same amount of alcohol.
  • Mixers will not help dilute alcohol. In fact, carbonated mixers like club soda or tonic water cause a person's system to absorb alcohol more quickly. Also, fruit juice and other sweet mixers mask the taste of alcohol and may cause people to drink more.
  • Hosts should not let guests mix their own drinks. Rather, they should appoint a reliable "bartender" who can keep track of the size and number of drinks that guests consume.
  • Also, you should not be afraid to insist that someone who has been pounding drinks hard should take a break and switch to non-alcoholic beverages.

"For someone who has been drinking, one of the first impacts is an impairment of their judgment," says Heidi Coleman, chief of the Impaired Driving Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

About 90 minutes before the party ends, the host should close the bar and serve a dessert with coffee. This will give guests the time they need to sober up, if they have been drinking.

If you feel a person has had too much to drink, be sure to speak up and make certain he or she has plans to get home safely, even if they seem sober.

"Don't rely on a person's physical appearance to determine whether or not they've had too much to drink," says Glynn Birch, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Finally, everyone driving during this holiday season should be sure to use seat belts.

"Seat belts are your best defense against a drunk driver," says Birch. "We want people to drive safe, drive sober, and buckle up."

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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