You and some friends plan a night out at a neighborhood bar, intending to have a few laughs and a few drinks. The first two go down smooth and easy, followed by a couple more and perhaps more still. Before you know it, your inhibitions and discernment are down a quart or two as well.
You decide to call it a night. Your bloodshot eyes can barely focus and you stumble, laughing as you shuffle at the door. Perhaps a less intoxicated friend offers to drive you home or let you stay over.
“Nah,” you reply. “It’s only a short ride.”
You slide in behind the wheel and miss the gas pedal with your right foot as you adjust the rearview mirror so the headlights of the cars behind you don’t glare and impair your vision. You turn on the radio to keep yourself awake. Rounding a curve, one that’s normally familiar to you, you take the turn too quickly. The next thing you know, a police officer is shining his flashlight through the window of your car, which has had a serious run-in with a neighbor’s mailbox.
The Cost of Driving Impaired
In most states, driving under the influence laws are based on blood alcohol concentration, which is affected by factors such as gender, weight, body composition, tolerance, and whether a person has eaten. Self-perception of intoxication is distorted, so someone who doesn’t feel drunk or high might be.
What does a moment of misjudgment cost in terms of lives lost, injury, money, freedom, and driving privileges?
Penalties vary by state. In Pennsylvania, for example, a first offense carries with it no minimum jail time, a $300 fine and no loss of license. But in California, the consequences are stiffer, with four days to six months of incarceration, up to $1,000 penalty, and 30 days to 10 months of license suspension. Naturally, penalties increase with every DUI charge.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, “Each day, people drive drunk almost 300,000 times, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested.”
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, offers even more frightening statistics: “32,719 people died in traffic crashes in 2013 in the United States (latest figures available), including an estimated 10,076 people who died in drunk driving crashes, accounting for 31% of all traffic deaths that year.”
A Sobering Reminder
An addictions counselor in an outpatient drug and alcohol program would ask clients to imagine how many people were impaired on the road while the group was safe in an office or room. They’d toss out a number.
She’d then ask if they had someone in their lives that they loved. After they’d say they did, the therapist would ask if they would’ve wanted that person to have been on the road while they were using and driving. Of course, they’d say no.
Her reminder was that everyone has someone he or she loves in the potential path of an impaired driver. Sobering thought.
The therapist would then tell the group there were two categories of clients who entered treatment because of a DUI charge. The first had the mindset of “Damn! I can’t drink or use because I have a DUI,” the second, the mindset of “Thank goodness I can’t drink or use because I have a DUI.”
Finally, she’d ask, “Which group do you think will do better in treatment?”
Spreading the Message about DUI Prevention
Public service announcements focused on preventing drunken driving can be effective.
The iconic 1983 Ad Council campaign with the tagline “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” has led to an increase in the number of Americans who say that they have attempted to prevent an intoxicated person from driving.
Know that there’s always a choice. If you’re hosting a party where alcohol is served and a guest becomes impaired, be willing to take their keys. Offer them a place to stay the night. Call a cab. Call a family member to pick them up or ask a sober friend to drive them home. If you’re out with friends and you or they are intoxicated, do the same.
Even if someone has no history of drug or alcohol abuse, even if a person lives five minutes away, it only takes a second to create a long-term problem. Planning ahead can save time and tragedy, preventing the unthinkable from occurring. No one wakes up thinking his or her world could shatter that day like the glass of a car windshield.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1