Drunk and Drugged Driving Over New Year’s—Don’t Become a Statistic

Drunk and Drugged Driving Over New Year’s—Don’t Become a StatisticIn 2012, 32 million people in the U.S. drove after using drugs or drinking. For drunk driving, New Year’s Day is the worst day of the year, with over half of all fatal crashes involving a drunk driver. It might surprise you that New Year’s Eve doesn’t take the top spot, but it’s after midnight when drinkers leave parties and contemplate doing something very stupid. For anybody struggling with addiction, the risk of relapse is compounded by the possibility that—although not originally intending to drink or use drugs—you decide that you’re sober enough to drive home. If you need to consider whether you’re safe to drive, you probably aren’t. Think that’s extreme? Let’s look at the facts and statistics about drunk and drugged driving. 

Risks of Drunk Driving

With impaired reaction time, reduced motor skills and poor decision-making ability, a drunk driver is an obvious danger. Most people are well aware of this, but there are many myths that persist about drunk driving. You may think you’re OK to drive if you aren’t slurring your speech or stumbling, for example, but this is wrong. The effects of alcohol start long before you start to show obvious signs of being drunk, and the core skills for driving, such as reaction time, motor coordination and impaired judgment, are among them. Combined with the drowsiness of any late-night driving, alcohol drastically increases your risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Additionally, while caffeine will (perhaps) make you feel more alert, it does not “sober you up,” especially in terms of your reaction time and judgment.

Although states set a maximum blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent, the effects of alcohol begin at around 0.03 percent. For a 170-pound man, if you’ve had three (standard strength, 12-oz) beers in an hour and a half, your BAC is around 0.05 percent, and you’ll be experiencing impaired judgment, reduced reaction time, significantly reduced motor performance and difficulty tracking moving objects. In other words, you’re more likely to have a car accident that’s fatal to you or somebody else. With lighter people, women, stronger drinks or anyone drinking more quickly, your BAC will be higher and likely over the legal limit.

U.S. Drunk Driving Statistics and the New Year

It’s estimated that an average of 31 percent of fatal car crashes involve drunk drivers, and drunk driving was responsible for over 10,300 deaths in 2012.  On New Year’s Day, this figure increases to around half, putting it ahead of other holidays such as the Fourth of July and the 18th of March (post-midnight after St. Patrick’s Day) in terms of road accident deaths, based on an analysis of government data by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This covered the period from 2005 to 2009, but the insurance institute also conducted a separate analysis on New Year’s Eve 2009 and New Year’s Day 2010 from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., finding that over the entire night, 40 percent of the 468 fatalities involved drunk drivers. Additionally, New Year’s Day is also the most dangerous day for pedestrians, with an average of 22 deaths each year.

Risks of Drug Driving

Drugged driving is like drunk driving, except that drugs can have a wider range of effects and are much less likely to be of consistent strength. Common effects of drugs such as impaired motor skills, reduced co-ordination, impaired reaction times, altered perception and clouded judgment can have seriously detrimental effects on your ability to drive, even if you’ve only had a small amount. Additionally, the law doesn’t specify an allowable blood-cocaine level for driving; if you have drugs in your system, you’re going to get in serious trouble.

After alcohol, marijuana is the most common drug found in the systems of impaired drivers, injured victims in accidents and those who die in crashes. Smoking pot has been shown to affect your perception of time and speed, make you less attentive and diminish your ability to use past experiences to draw conclusions, all of which are a severe detriment to your driving. Opiates (like heroin or prescription painkillers), amphetamines, cocaine and benzodiazepines are also commonly involved in car crashes when the driver was impaired.

U.S. Drug Driving Statistics

It isn’t as widely studied as drunk driving, but there are some drugged driving statistics that illustrate the severity of the issue. Studies from across America have found that between 4 percent and 14 percent of injured or fatally injured drivers in accidents tested positive for THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). Other research from Australia has shown that the higher the concentration of THC, the more likely the driver was at fault in the accident. Make no mistake; it’s not safe to drive after smoking pot.

In a Maryland study, 27 percent of injured drivers admitted to a medical trauma center tested positive for pot, 12 percent for cocaine, 11 percent for benzodiazepines and 10 percent for opiates and prescription drugs, with over half of all the cases involving drugs other than alcohol. Combinations of alcohol and other drugs were also common, being present in about a quarter of cases. Although there’s no specific research about the holiday season, the spike in drunk driving is likely to be accompanied by one in drugged driving.

Don’t Become a Statistic: Stay Sober

The only way to stay safe and avoid becoming another number on an impaired driving fatalities list is to avoid drugs and alcohol if you’re going to be driving. If you think you can have “just one drink” or “just a hit” and be safe, you’re sadly mistaken, and if you’ve struggled with addiction, stopping at just one is far from easy. Drinking and drug use carry a multitude of physical health risks, and getting behind the wheel afterward takes these very real dangers and multiplies them exponentially. The best plan is to have a “mocktail” or other non-alcoholic drink on hand and be ready with a firm, confident “no thanks” if you’re offered a drink or drugs. On the off-chance you relapse, even though it could still be serious, make sure you don’t drive under the influence: call a cab, find somewhere to stay or hitch a ride with somebody sober. It’s not worth the risk.