December is a time for celebration for people of all religions and cultures. One of the most popular events scheduled between Christmas and New Year’s is the holiday party, at which alcohol is commonly served. While it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to abstain from drinking, it’s absolutely essential that they make plans to do so safely, especially if they are the ones driving home. But studies have shown that people often underestimate their degree of intoxication before leaving social gatherings – and statistics indicate that people are more likely to die in car accidents during the holidays than any other time of the year.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of people who died in drunk-driving crashes nationwide increased by 4.6 percent between 2011 and 2012. Sadly, 32 states – including Georgia – saw increases in the number of overall alcohol-impaired accidents last year. A total of 301 people lost their lives in Georgia car accidents that involved alcohol, an 11 percent jump from the previous year.
Breaking the numbers down further sheds light on how dangerous the holiday period can be when it comes to drunk driving. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicate that two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes between Christmas and New Year’s than during comparable periods the rest of the year. According to the NIAAA, 40 percent of crashes that occur in that time frame involve alcohol compared to 28 percent during earlier parts of December.
Despite the numerous public service campaigns intended to curb drunk driving, many people still believe that they are OK to drive after drinking. A reporter for NBC recently conducted an experiment on social drinking to gauge whether people had a good sense of how impaired they were after drinking at a party. Half of the partygoers were asked to drink, but they were not told that a police officer would administer a Breathalyzer test before they left. Many were surprised at the results, finding that they were over the legal limit of 0.08 after only two drinks.
Yet experts say such misperceptions are widespread. According to the NIAAA, it’s common for people to underestimate how quickly alcohol can begin to impair their driving abilities because their sense of judgment may be compromised before their bodies begin to show signs of drunkenness. Furthermore, alcohol can initially be a stimulant, leading people to feel more in control than they really are and lowering their inhibitions about getting behind the wheel.
Driving skills suffer even more as a night of drinking continues. People mistakenly believe that they can sober up if they wait an hour or so after their last drink to drive home. But it takes the body a long time to metabolize alcohol. That means you may go through periods of feeling sober and then drunk again as alcohol seeps into your bloodstream. As that happens, necessary driving abilities such as reaction time and judgment can be impaired, and sleepiness may start to set in.
The NIAAA offers these tips to merrymakers during the holiday season:
- Pace yourself. Don’t have more than one drink per hour.
- Make every other drink a nonalcoholic one.
- Remember that a designated driver is not the person who drinks the least — it is the one who does not drink at all.
As more people hit the roads to spend the holidays with their loved ones, please keep their safety – as well as your own – first and foremost in your mind. Don’t drink and drive.