Don’t Make Luck Part of Driving Safety

By Mark Rosekind

NHS1-38359-80Percent-prFestivities on the day honoring St. Patrick have grown considerably since the world’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 1762, in New York City.  It has evolved into a celebration of all things Irish and is a tribute to the 35 million resident Americans of Irish ancestry, seven times the population of Ireland itself and the second largest ethnic group in the nation.

And this has turned into a $4.8 billion party with an estimated 133 million Americans partaking in some form of related festivity.  Brewers took in $245 million last year and bars or liquor stores can make one percent of their total annual sales on St. Patrick’s Day alone.

On St. Patrick’s Day, thirty-two percent of motor vehicle crash deaths involve an alcohol-impaired driver.  Like so many other holidays and events in this country, St. Patrick’s Day has become synonymous with drinking.  While drunk-driving deaths in the United States dramatically increase on this day the same way they do during other alcohol-driven celebrations, 80 percent of all drunk-driving deaths on St. Patrick’s Day involve drivers who are nearly twice the legal blood alcohol limit (BAC).

Unfortunately, many people who celebrate by drinking choose to drive impaired or ride with an impaired driver.  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 lost their lives in an alcohol-impaired crash.

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.

Driving to your destination safely isn’t about luck, it is about responsibility and having a strategy for separating the consumption of alcohol from the driving task.  The problem is not just limited to St. Patrick’s Day.  Anytime drinking alcohol may coincide with getting behind the wheel of a car, plan ahead to avoid a situation that places your life and the lives of others at risk. 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.

Party hosts are responsible for their guests’ safety as well.  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 reasonably early and keep the numbers for local cab companies handy.

By planning ahead to avoid drinking and driving, we can leave luck to the Irish and count on making roads safer for everyone.

Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

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