The Dangers of Drinking and Driving

Reviewer Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Editor Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Updated On
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Together We Can Make a Difference.

“I can definitely drive.” These are usually the last words of drunken driving casualties. Every year, millions of people worldwide tell themselves they can drive drunk just fine. Worse yet, many people know they shouldn’t be driving in the state they’re in but do anyway. Just because you make it home safely to your bed does not mean that you’ve made anything even CLOSE to a good decision. When you put those keys in the ignition and drive away after having been drinking, you are not only putting your own life at risk, but also the lives of all others sharing the road.

In today’s day and age, with apps like Uber and Lyft, and with other forms of public transportation readily available, driving drunk is inexcusable. It’s literally the worst of several decisions you could make on how to get where you’re going next. So, then it starts with you. It starts with each of us, but together we can make a difference. Walk. Take a bus, or a taxi, or an Uber or a Lyft. Maybe catch a ride from a sober friend. Plan ahead. Some things just aren’t worth the risk.

Poor Decision Making

The list of the effects alcohol has on the human body is extensive. It affects us from head to toe, inside and out. However, when it comes to drinking and driving, there are some particular effects that everyone should be aware of. 

Alcohol causes drowsiness, slowed response time, distorted vision, impaired decision making, memory lapses (blackouts), decreased coordination, and possibly unconsciousness. Do any of these symptoms seem safe to exhibit while operating a motor vehicle? Rhetorical question… of course not. This is why, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in America dies every 50 minutes from an alcohol-related car accident. In 2016, a total of 10,497 people in the US alone died from drunk driving, which accounted for 28% of all vehicle-related deaths. The next year, there were 377 more drunk driving deaths, and the percentage shot to 29%. 

Currently, we are a little over halfway through 2019, and as of now, the official statistics for last year have not been released. One can only hope the numbers have dropped. Driving under the influence of alcohol is never a good decision. More so, it is always a bad one. Absolutely zero justifications exist for doing it. If you find yourself driving drunk, it just may be time to consider checking into some sort of alcohol abuse treatment program. 

If none of this is quite enough to make you never drive drunk again, try this on for size. Approximately 17% of all traffic-related deaths among children age 0-14 involve alcohol. The level of how darkly horrible this truly is should serve as a wake-up call.

DUI/DWI

Obviously, the worst-case scenario that could arise from drunk driving is a bodily injury. However, one should never forget about a second scenario that often arises from drunk driving: getting into trouble with Johnny Law. It’s as if you didn’t already have enough reasons to not do it…

DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” DWI can stand either for “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” The difference between the two varies from state to state. In fact, some states see no legal difference. Regardless, DUI/DWI is a significant problem in America and carries significant punishment. Here are some things you should know about.

First and foremost, let’s define what being legally drunk means. Having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is considered illegal for driving purposes in every state except Utah, where it is 0.05% as of last year. Generally, it takes 3 or 4 drinks for an adult person to reach a 0.08% BAC. Now here comes the staggering info…

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), around 1.5 million people are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs over the course of any given year. That’s one for every 120 licensed drivers! (Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has stated that alcohol is involved in about 40% of all homicides). Bad decisions become much easier to make when drunk. So, make your decision ahead of time and never ever drive unless sober.

A Possible Scenario

It’s Friday, 5 PM, and the whole work crew is heading to the local haunt. You drive there, meet everyone, and take over a few tables in the back of the bar. Before long, chicken wings and mugs of beer are flying this way and that. You have a few drinks, a few wings, and play a few games of darts. You also lose track of time until you notice it’s almost 11:00. You don’t feel drunk at all, but just to be sure, you drink a glass of water or two before you leave. (NOTE: Drinking water does NOT make you less drunk.)

Anyway, you say your goodbyes, finish the water (good for the hangover, nothing for the buzz), start the car, crank up some oldies, and you’re on the road. At the red light near the bank, you reach for your phone to change the song and you enter your passcode wrong once, then get it, and you change the song but there’s an ad, so you wait the 7 seconds and you hit play. Meanwhile, the light had been green for half a minute, shining on you idling in the middle of the road.

In the back of the parking lot of the bank, Officer Smith watches you this whole time, thinking that it’s likely innocent, but decides to check it out. It is after 11:00 anyway. Moments later, you see it: the dreaded red and blue lights of a police cruiser. You pull over and the officer approaches your door. 

“Good evening. Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“Hello, officer. Yes. I am assuming it was because I stopped so long at the green light. I’m sorry! I dropped my bottle of water and it ended up getting stuck under my pedal, but I got it.”

“Haha, I see. Yeah, I figured it was something like… wait. Is that alcohol I smell? Have you had anything to drink tonight?”

All of a sudden, you’re blowing into a breathalyzer and it’s coming up 0.09% BAC. You’re placed in the back of Officer Smith’s car, and you’re now facing the legal repercussions of drinking and driving. It doesn’t matter what state you live in. There is a national zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving. The extent of punishment given for breaking this law varies from state to state, but generally speaking, you can look forward to being arrested and likely not driving for six months to a year. This, only if you’re a first-time offender. Get caught drinking and driving twice or more and it’s very likely jail time for you. God forbid someone dies as a result of your drinking and driving, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Making the Right Decision

Enforcing the law does not prevent drunk driving. It only punishes those who are caught. Obviously, there is no way to tell for sure, but it is this author’s opinion that for every person caught doing it, at least one other has done it and not been caught. Therefore it’s not up to lawmakers or members of law enforcement to fix the problem of drunk driving. It’s up to you and I and everyone we know. 

You may or may not remember Smokey the Bear saying, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Well, that bear was correct, and this applies to drunk driving as well. Nobody can stop you from doing it except yourself (or hopefully maybe a good and persuasive friend). The bottom line is that the choice is yours, from the moment you order a drink to the moment it’s time to go home. Just keep the roads safe and don’t drive if you drink. It’s so incredibly simple.

What Else You Can Do

While the decision not to drive drunk is each of our own, there are indeed ways to try and help prevent others from driving under the influence. Talk to people in your life who you think could use the words. Nothing bad can come from educating people on the dangers of driving drunk. If you’re feeling even more proactive, you could always go so far as to volunteer with a national drunk driving prevention organization such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). Also, you’re a quick Google search away from finding out if any such organization exists in your local area.

If you don’t have the time to educate or volunteer, donations are always welcome and can go a long way for organizations that may not have the funding that MADD has. Regardless of whether or not you choose to help prevent others from driving impaired, by making the right decision and not drinking and driving yourself, you’re already doing what it takes.

Resources and Organizations

  1. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD
  2. College Drinking Prevention
  3. Drunk Driving Statistics and Facts
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  5. National Center for the Victims of Crime: Drunk Driving
  6. Response Ability Update
  7. Community Coalition for Healthy Youth
  8. NHTSA
  9. Alcohol Research Group
  10. College Alcohol Study
  11. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  12. Facts on Tap
  13. Alice
  14. Higher Education Center
  15. Monitoring the Future
  16. SWF Counseling

How You Can Help End Drinking and Driving

The first thing anyone can do is make the choice themselves not to drink and drive. With this said there are many other ways you can help to end drinking and driving. Educating the youth, your personal family members as well as youth within your community is very important. They must know the dangers of drinking and driving as well as the legal repercussions of this action. Another way to help would be to volunteer with an organization set out to end drinking and driving, this will help you to reach out to more individuals and get the word across about the dangers of drinking and driving. You can also donate to these organizations, contributions made by individuals like yourself are what make it possible to keep drivers educated and safe. If you or a loved one have a problem with alcohol, please read our resource on choosing a safe and effective alcohol treatment center.

Regardless of how you help; by making the choice not to drink yourself, personally educating youth, volunteering or donating, you will be working to end drinking and driving.

This article is also in Spanish. Click here for the Spanish version.


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