During what should be the happiest part of the year, many families will suffer tragedy related to alcohol-impaired driving. In addition to those families that suffer the loss or injury of a loved one, many individuals will experience the shame and high cost associated with being arrested for driving under the influence. Although alcohol-impaired driving might seem to be an issue that has been successfully dealt with (over a 50% reduction in drunk-driving fatalities over the last thirty years), this cause of death still kills more Americans than HIV/AIDS and about the same number of deaths attributed to lack of health insurance coverage. Acknowledging that the magnitude of this problem is great, we can move towards steps to make sure that we are each part of the solution to alcohol-impaired driving, rather than part of the problem.
Responsible drinking requires fundamental knowledge about alcohol and its effects. It is important to understand that a bottle of regular beer (12 ounces), a glass of wine (5 ounces), and a cocktail (with 1.5 ounces of 80-proof) each contain the same amount of alcohol. There is no beverage of responsibility, only a practice of responsible consumption. A pint of beer is sixteen ounces and mixed drinks contain variable amounts of alcohol, so make sure when you are keeping track of your drinking that you make the necessary corrections for size and alcohol concentration.
If you'll be drinking, plan ahead. A great way is to select a designated driver, one person in your party who will remain sober and drive everyone home safely. RADD (Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk Driving, the entertainment industry s voice for road safety) will be issuing cards that adults can use at select California establishments to receive rewards for their designated driver. Many establishments, who might not be participating in a mass campaign, will gladly provide designated drivers with free non-alcoholic drinks to thank them for their commitment to safety.
What if you failed to plan ahead or had an unexpected drinking outing? In many communities, non-profits and leaders in the hospitality/beverage alcohol industry team up to help you get home safely. During the holiday season, many cities have opportunities to get home for free if you feel you are unable to get home safely after a night of holiday revelry. One example of this is in Jefferson, MO. Heineken USA was so impressed with the success of one such program during the holiday seasons, they decided to pay (along with their local distributor) so that the program could be in operation 365 days a year. Heineken also maintains an excellent website for alcohol education, with advice such as:
Your ability to safely drive a car or any other vehicle may actually be impaired at blood alcohol levels well below the legal limit. A number of different factors come into play: amount eaten, time of day, mood, metabolism, level of fatigue. All these matter. And even though the human body eliminates alcohol at a rate of about one drink every two to three hours, there is no way of predicting exactly how alcohol will affect you. The message is clear: alcohol and driving are a deadly mix.
Throughout the state of Florida, AAA, courtesy of Anheuser Busch, will tow your car home for free so that you can wake up safely the next morning without even having to retrieve your car. Los Angeles and San Diego each have services that pick you and your car up under the auspices of the Designated Driver Association and Scooter Patrol. There is a high likelihood that your server will know of these programs -- and may be a better judge than you of whether you can drive safely. And even if you have to eat the cost of a taxi home, consider the potential savings of life, limb, and money from your choice to be responsible.
I will close with a quote from a holiday card I received from an anti-drunk-driving group this year: "While you are out celebrating this holiday season, if you see eight reindeer flying through the air pulling a jolly old man dressed in red...please call a cab." Have a happy and safe holiday season!
Howard Forman, a student at the Albert Einstein college of Medicine, is the president and founder of Doctors for Designated Driving and co-chair of the American Medical Association Action Team on Alcohol and Health.