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December 26, 2006 > December is Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month

December is Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month

by Washington Hospital

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with friends, family and coworkers. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when some merrymakers enjoy a little too much holiday cheer and then drive home. Don’t let drinking and driving become part of your holiday tradition.

December is designated Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month to raise awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Impaired driving is one of California’s deadliest crimes. Last year, 1,719 Californians were killed in alcohol-related car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

With the slew of office parties, family gatherings, and friendly holiday get-togethers, drunk driving is bound to increase from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. Unfortunately, this holiday season hasn’t had the best start. Drunk-driving arrests during Thanksgiving weekend were up over last year, with 1,669 arrests compared to 1,521 last year, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Alcohol is a drug that impairs your ability to drive because it depresses the central nervous system, slowing the activity of your brain and spinal cord. Judgment and restraint are lessened, reflexes are slowed, and muscle coordination is impaired.

The alcohol enters your bloodstream, which affects your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). It is illegal to drive in California with a BAC of .08 percent or more. For many people, that means two or fewer five-ounce glasses of wine or 12-ounce beers within one hour would push them over the legal limit to drive.

“If you must drink this holiday season, make sure you balance it with plenty of food,” said Dr. David Orenberg, director of Emergency Services at Washington Hospital.

Food reduces the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the body. Never drink on an empty stomach. Other tips for keeping yourself and others from driving drunk include:

  1. Don’t mix medication and alcohol. When taken alone, many prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as sedatives, anti-depressants, and cold medicines already can impair driving. Adding even small amounts of alcohol can intensify these effects.

  2. Designate a driver who isn’t drinking and will take responsibility for getting you home. Never accept a ride with someone who has been drinking.

  3. Set a limit and stick to it.

  4. Switch to a non-alcoholic drink an hour or two before you plan to drive.

  5. Never drive drunk. Allow someone to take you home or stay where you are if you are too drunk. Exercise, fresh air, black coffee, or a cold shower will NOT make you a sober, safe driver.

There are also a number of ways hosts can help to prevent their guests from driving home drunk, including:

  1. Provide plenty water and other non-alcoholic drinks.

  2. Offer high-protein foods such as shrimp, meatballs, and cheese and make sure food is available throughout the party.

  3. Allow your guests to pace themselves by not forcing drinks or rushing to fill their glasses.

  4. Close the bar and hour or more before the party ends and encourage your guests to linger.

  5. Ask who the designated drivers are and collect keys in the beginning of the evening.

“Aside from the accidents it can cause, alcohol is a serious drug that can ravish the body over time if abused, so you really have to be careful with it,” said Orenberg, who has seen firsthand the results of alcohol-related accidents in the emergency room.

There has been a concerted effort over the last 25 years by highway safety advocates and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving to reduce the number of people who drive drunk through public awareness campaigns like “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” and laws cracking down on drunk drivers.

In California, sobriety checkpoints have been an effective way to raise awareness about the consequences of drinking and driving and may even reduce drunk-driving accidents. Sobriety checkpoints are traffic stops in a designated and publicized area where police officers systematically select drivers to assess their level of alcohol impairment. Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that fewer alcohol-related crashes occur when sobriety checkpoints are in place.

Despite this effort, alcohol-related traffic deaths are still a serious public health issue in this country. According to the CDC, an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash kills someone every 31 minutes and non-fatally injures someone every two minutes.

Consider that sobering statistic as you get ready for your next holiday party and plan accordingly.

For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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