By Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Sunday is a big day for football fans across the country both at the stadium and watching on TV. But the game is now just as synonymous with drinking as it is with sports and commercials.
Nine out of 10 spectators – including myself – will watch at home, either at their house or someone else’s. As the largest sporting event in Unites States averaging about 100 million viewers, that’s a lot of parties. Last year it amounted to 51.7 million cases of beer sold nationwide to mark the championship.
Unfortunately, many people who celebrate the game by drinking choose to drive impaired or ride with an impaired driver. In my home state of California, there are 75 percent more alcohol-related car crashes on game day than on other comparable Sundays, according to an Automobile Club of Southern California study. That tragic increase means an additional 276 unnecessary and preventable deaths and injuries on California roadways.
It’s no surprise a big event that often includes alcohol consumption is linked to an increase in crashes, even when a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) falls below legal limits. As the NTSB noted in its report Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving, driver impairment doesn’t just begin at the current legal BAC limit of 0.08, but with the very first drink. In 2012 alone, 10,322 people were killed by an alcohol-impaired driver.
Research shows signs of impairment such as swerving and lack of focus with a BAC as low at 0.01. At a BAC of 0.05, a driver’s crash risk increases by 38 percent. That risk is 250 percent greater at 0.08. A new UC San Diego study concludes that “minimally buzzed” drivers even with blood alcohol levels as low as 0.01 are often responsible for deaths on the road, and found a direct correlation between low-level alcohol impairment and greater accident severity. Drivers with a BAC of just 0.01 are 46 percent more likely to be blamed for car crashes than the sober drivers they collide with.
Let’s cover the gameplan for this Sunday. I’m not referring to the strategies of the opposing teams. This is about your strategy for separating the consumption of alcohol from the driving task. The problem is not just limited to my state. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40 percent of motor vehicle fatalities nationwide involve alcohol-impaired driving on game day. It’s clear that wherever fans are enjoying the game, the risk of involvement in an alcohol-impaired crash is higher. Plan ahead to avoid a situation that places your life and the lives of others at risk.
And this advice isn’t just for those driving. Hosts can be held responsible for their guests’ safety as well. If your place is the game day venue, make sure all your guests designate a sober driver in advance or arrange for alternate transportation to ensure they get home safely. Serve food and include non-alcoholic beverages as a choice. Stop serving alcohol at the end of the third quarter of the game. And keep the numbers for local cab companies handy.
By planning ahead to avoid drinking and driving, football fans can help make roads safer for everyone this weekend. There are many options. Personal responsibility, moderation, and discretion, combined with alternatives such as public transportation, taxis, designated drivers, and sober rides are all great ways to help prevent an impaired driver from getting behind the wheel.
Personally, my plan is to stay home, enjoy some munchies, and be glad I’m not sitting outside in the freezing New Jersey weather. Whatever you do this Sunday, have a gameday safety strategy. If everyone avoids alcohol-impaired driving, we’re all winners.
Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.