AAA projects 92.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 3.1 percent from the 89.5 million who traveled a year ago.
As party-goers celebrate the holidays with friends and family, Salem Community Hospital (SCH) reminds motorists that drinking and driving don't mix.
"Many people feel that the holidays are a time to eat, drink and be merry," explained Lauren Fredrickson, M.D., Medical Director of Salem Community Hospital's Emergency Department. "But when drivers fail to be responsible, those glasses of alcohol can quickly turn one of the happiest times of the year into a nightmare. We know that the holiday season can be one of the deadliest and most dangerous times on America's roadways, due to an increase in buzzed and drunk driving.
"The term 'buzzed' is used to describe a feeling of slight intoxication after drinking or using drugs. Many people use the term to describe a condition that they see as being less than intoxicated. The reality is that being buzzed impairs judgment and that buzzed driving is impaired driving.
"Most people don't intend to drive drunk," continued Dr. Fredrickson. "But, at the end of the night, many try to convince themselves and their friends that they aren't drunk, just buzzed, and are perfectly capable of driving. Understanding this and planning appropriately can save lives."
It is against the law in all states to drive with a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 or higher. Yet National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data show that last year 10,839 people were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes, including 753 in December alone. NHTSA trend data has also consistently shown an increase in fatalities during the holiday season. In Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety crash statistics, 390 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2009. Of those crashes, 37 of the fatalities occurred between Thanksgiving and New Years.
"The effects of drinking and driving are always risky and can often be lethal," Dr. Fredrickson stated. "Statistics show that every half hour, someone will die in an alcohol-related traffic accident and everyone has a 30 percent lifetime risk of being involved in an automobile crash related to alcohol. Teenagers are especially at risk and one of the effects of teen drinking and driving is that several thousand teens are killed every year and another 85,000 end up injured."
Effects of Different BAC Levels
"The truth is that alcohol influences a person's driving no matter how little he or she drinks," Dr. Fredrickson warned. "Once ingested, the blood carries the alcohol to the important organs in the body that coordinate our activities, including driving."
Effects on Body
0.02 0.05 - Relaxation, slight body warmth, lower inhibition.
0.05 0.10 - Impairment of speech, vision, balance; sedation, tranquility, slowed reaction time, reduced self-control.
0.10 0.20 - Slurred speech, blurred vision, poor coordination, loss of balance, slowed thinking and nausea.
0.20 0.30 - Difficult walking, total mental confusion, double vision, vomiting.
0.30 0.40 - May pass out, tremors, memory loss, cool body temperature.
0.40 0.50 - Difficulty breathing, coma, possible death
0.50 and up - Death
According to the NHTSA, drivers under the influence of alcohol often display certain characteristics when they are on the road:
- Perception abilities are affected; they are less likely to observe traffic signs, pedestrians or cars coming from the opposite side
- Tendency to focus more straightforward and not look to the right or left; their eyes are slower and they remain focused on one object for a longer time
- Reaction time increases and reflexes diminish
- Difficulty driving in a straight line; sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road
- Poor judgment of distances and speed; stopping without cause
- Driving after dark with headlights off
- Tendency to be overconfident and put yourself in danger
"After frequently hearing about the dangers of drinking and driving, most people have gotten the message that if they're planning on drinking, they should always plan a safe way home," Dr. Fredrickson concluded. "However, millions of Americans still think they are invincible and regularly choose to get behind the wheel after having a few drinks."
SCH recommends these simple driving tips for a safe holiday season:
- Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin. Before drinking, designate a sober driver.
- If you're impaired, use a taxi, or call a sober friend or family member.
- If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don't hesitate to contact your local law enforcement officials.
- Remember, friends don't let friends drive drunk. If you know someone who is about to drive while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.
Lastly, with Ohio's unpredictable weather, plan ahead for winter driving, and make sure your vehicle is in good working condition and contains appropriate emergency equipment.
Lauren Fredrickson, M.D., is the medical director of Salem Community Hospital's Emergency Department.