Drive, then drink not the other way around

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About four million Americans admitted to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol at least once in 2010, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For a paper published in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a team of researchers compiled data on drinking and driving behaviors from a national telephone survey. They found that men accounted for over four-fifths of drinking and driving episodes. Participants who were self-reported binge drinkers accounted for 85 percent of instances of impaired driving, while those who owned up to not always wearing a seat belt were four times more likely to drive after drinking, compared to those who said they always buckle up.

There is some good news, however, to be gleaned from the data: The statistics from 2010 represent the lowest percentage of drinking drivers since the survey began in 1993, and the practice has decreased overall by 30 percent since its peak in 2006. However, one-third of motor vehicle fatalities (which result in thousands of deaths annually) are still related to alcohol-impaired driving, and about 112 million alcohol-impaired driving episodes still occur every year.

ACSH has always maintained that drinking and driving is a serious public health problem that often has catastrophic consequences. It s tragic when you read about young people getting killed on the road by an impaired driver, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. She believes, however, that we should be referring to the practice as drinking and driving not drunk driving. The latter, more common term, she says, suggests that it s okay to drive until you re nearly falling down drunk. But it s important that people know that you don t have to be drunk to have your driving impaired after drinking alcohol, Dr. Whelan emphasizes. The popular catchphrase friends shouldn t let friends drive drunk should instead be amended to friends shouldn t let friends drink and drive. Period.