Drunk DrivingJanuary 16, 2011 | in Born to Drive
Drunk driving, driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, drink-driving, impaired driving, operating under the influence: no matter what you call it (and no matter where you are), drunk driving is one of the most reckless activities you can participate in. Not only is it illegal in all US states and most countries around the world, but most repeat drunk drivers end up irrevocably altering (or ending) many lives: their own and those of strangers, friends, loved ones, and children.
Although specific drunk driving regulations may differ from state to state, the penalties are high. Those who kill or injure another while driving under the influence can face heavy fines and civil suits as well as jail time. Most states have adopted strict sentencing laws that ensure those convicted will serve the full time they are sentenced to.
Since 2004, the most common legal limit for drunk driving is .08% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Different people will reach this BAC at different points; on average, consuming 3-5 drinks in an hour will bring your BAC close to this limit. However, it’s important to note that your BAC keeps going up for three hours after you’ve finished drinking and that alcohol affects different people in different ways. Many jurisdictions also have open container laws which prohibit the presence of open containers of alcohol within a motor vehicle, even if the driver is not consuming alcohol. In other states, it is illegal to even sleep in the driver’s seat while drunk.
Drivers can experience impaired faculties at BAC levels as low as .02%. At .05%, drivers suffer from a reduced ability to track moving objects, to respond to emergencies, and to steer effectively. At .08%, drivers cannot control speed effectively, suffer from impaired concentration and memory, and have a harder time processing information, such as the appearance of new obstacles or changing traffic conditions.
Knowing this, it’s not surprising that roughly 10% of traffic-related fatalities are caused by drunk driving. In the United States, on average one person dies from an alcohol-related crash every 40-45 minutes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), these accidents result in $50 billion in costs each year. Young drivers are particularly at risk. Drivers in the 21-24 year old bracket are the most likely to drive drunk. Alcohol is also a factor in 31% of fatal crashes in the 15-20 year old bracket.
While for some drivers drunk driving may be a rare poor choice, many are repeat offenders. On average, a driver arrested for the first time for drunk driving has driven drunk 87 times before! Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization which has radically changed the way Americans view drunk driving, estimates that over 2 million drunk drivers with three or more prior convictions are on the road on any given day.
However, these drivers face stern consequences. In many places, drivers arrested with BACs of over .2 or .15 suffer from additional penalties, including the installation of ignition interlock devices (an in-car breathalyzer which drivers must blow into before the car will start), larger fines, and longer DUI programs. In many states, physicians are allowed to violate doctor-patient confidentiality in order to report drunk driving. In other states, such as Ohio and Minnesota, repeat offenders are issued special license plates. In South Africa, a country which has notoriously high rates of drunk driving accidents, local newspapers have begun to print “lists of shame” on Monday morning which make public the names of drivers convicted of drunk driving over the weekend.
Although rates of drunk driving arrests and convictions have declined in recent years, this is clearly still a serious issue. You can help to prevent drunk driving by making sure that you and your friends make safe choices. If you know you will be drinking, make arrangements to take a taxi, use public transportation, or call a safe ride service. You can also take turns serving as designated driver or choose bars and restaurants within walking distance. If worse comes to worst, call a family member or (very good) friend. While they may be annoyed at having to fetch you late at night, they’ll be glad that you’re safe in the morning.
If you host a party, make provisions for your guests. Either make sure that each group has a designated driver or provide space for guests to stay over. There are lots of delicious recipes for non-alcoholic cocktails and punches out there, so think about providing an attractive alternative for your non-drinking guests.
If you see a driver on the road who looks like he or she may be driving drunk, don’t hesitate to alert your local police. A report like yours will be enough cause for an officer to pull over the driver in question. Symptoms of drunk driving include rapid and erratic acceleration and deceleration, stopping suddenly and/or in an inappropriate place, driving in the center of two lanes, driving very slowly (i.e. under 10mph) and other similar odd behaviors.
Educate your friends and family as well. While 80% of drivers in the US know the term “BAC”, many don’t know or understand the legal limits for their states. Don’t let friends or acquaintances get behind the wheel after drinking and make sure they know what the consequences can be if they do.
If you’d like to get more involved in the fight against drunk driving, there are a number of non-profit organizations dedicated to doing so. The most famous of these is Mothers Against Drunk driving (www.madd.org). Among their current initiatives is a lobby to have ignition interlock devices installed in the cars of all convicted drunk drivers, so that they cannot easily become repeat offenders. The Century Council (www.centurycouncil.org) is another leader in the fight against drunk driving.
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