The holidays are here (where did the last 11 months go?) and the national “Ride Sober or Get Pulled Over” crackdown on impaired driving is in full swing. More than a decade ago, I survived a crash caused by a drunk driver with a .22 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is nearly three times the legal limit. I have no tolerance for motorists who opt to drink and drive, and am a staunch supporter of not only stepped-up, but year-round enforcement.
While some argue this annual enforcement effort isn’t necessary (I’ve even heard detractors say it should be illegal), drunk driving remains a serious problem on our state and nation’s roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 32,885 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 and 31 percent of those fatalities involved an alcohol impaired driver. In New Jersey, 24 percent or 152 of the motor vehicle fatalities that occurred in 2011 (627) involved alcohol.
The holiday season is particularly dangerous. During December when we look forward to celebrating with family, friends and colleagues, an average of 25 people die in impaired-driving crashes each day. A NHTSA review of December 2010 crash data shows that over two-thirds or 71 percent of those killed that month were involved in alcohol-impaired crashes where a driver tested at a BAC of .15 and above.
The good news is that teens are getting the message about the dangers of drinking and driving thanks to DARE, SADD, MADD, and many other educational initiatives, and are far more likely than their parents to refrain from this unsafe behavior. I’m not saying teens don’t drink, but many recognize that it’s safer to designate a driver, stay the night or call a friend or cab for a ride, then to get behind the wheel after imbibing.
On the other hand, young adults -- 21 to 34 years of age -- are among those at greatest risk for driving impaired. And young males, in particular, are more likely to be involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes (78 percent in December 2010, says NHTSA). A closer look at New Jersey crash data supports these findings with male drivers more than twice as likely as females to be involved in a fatal alcohol- related crash.
Whether you have a teen or young adult driver in your house, I urge you to regularly discuss the dangers of impaired driving and back that up by being a good role model. That means if you drink alcohol, designate a driver or arrange for another way to get home. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, parents’ behavior has a significant impact on what their children do starting at an early age, so be the driver you want your teen to be.
I also urge you to impress upon all the drivers in your household the potential for serious injury and loss of life not only to themselves but others if they choose to drink and operate a motor vehicle. (And be sure to reinforce with those not yet driving the dangers of riding with an intoxicated driver.) Also, take the time to review the consequences associated with breaking the law -- possible jail time, loss of driving privilege, higher insurance rates, thousands of dollars in fines and penalties as well as court costs and attorney fees, vehicle repairs, lost wages due to time off from work, and the potential for law suits that could result in serious financial hardship to your family.
Be persistent and regularly remind them of the awesome responsibility that comes with driving. Additionally, point out the importance of not letting a friend or family member get behind the wheel after drinking. If you see an impaired driver on the road, pull over to a place of safety and call law enforcement. Your actions may save someone’s life, while inaction could cost a life.