How to Avoid Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths

Some holiday predictions are, tragically, very predictable. For example, more people are likely to die in alcohol-related traffic crashes during the holidays than at other times of the year.

Statistics show that during Christmas and New Year’s, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes than during comparable periods the rest of the year.

And 40 percent of traffic fatalities during these holidays involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 28 percent for the rest of December.

Even though many of us are aware of these troubling statistics, myths about drinking and driving persist—myths that, for some, can prove fatal.

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Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provide important information that challenges these widespread, yet incorrect, beliefs about how quickly alcohol affects the body and how long these effects can last.

Holiday revelers may not recognize that critical driving-related skills and decision-making abilities are diminished long before they show physical signs of intoxication.

Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant and people who drink may temporarily feel upbeat and excited. But they shouldn’t be fooled. Alcohol soon affects inhibitions and judgment, leading to reckless decisions behind the wheel.

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As more alcohol is consumed, reaction time suffers and behavior becomes poorly controlled and sometimes aggressive—further compromising driving abilities.

Continued drinking can lead to the slurred speech and loss of balance that we typically associate with being drunk. At higher levels, alcohol acts as a depressant, which causes the drinker to become sleepy and sometimes pass out.

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you choose to drink:

  • Pace yourself. Know what constitutes a standard drink and have no more than one per hour.
  • Have “drink spacers”—make every other drink a nonalcoholic one.
  • Make plans to get home safely. Remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn’t had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least.

For more information on celebrating your holidays safely and tips for cutting back, visit: http://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

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