You’ve heard it a million times, but you need to hear it again
If you drink and drive, you are a public menace
Warmer weather is here, and most of the allergens of the planet are abloom. Opening day of the baseball season is upon us, and it’s soon time for lawn mowers, garden planting, barbecues, and outdoor sports. “It’s beer-thirty somewhere” becomes part of the spring and summer vernacular, whether after your work softball team’s latest win or at the 19th hole of your municipal golf course. Happy times with family and friends soaking up the sunshine are just around the corner, complete within good food and adult beverages. Because there is nothing like an ice-cold beer on a long, hot day, am I right?
If you are a parent with kids in high school, prom season is imminent, along with all the associated hijinks, including under-aged drinking. We’d all like to think that our kids are as responsible as we raise them to be, but it seems like something happens to the chemistry of the teenaged brain when prom night rolls around, doesn’t it? Something in the collective teen unconscious, like a kind of “hive mind,” becomes hormonally supercharged, rendering them incapable of thinking about anything . Surely you remember your own experiences, not that long ago, that had your parents clutching at their pearls or a rosary hoping you would make it home by curfew unscathed, don’t you?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 28 people in the United States die every day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This translates to one death every 53 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.
Alcohol-impaired driving crashes account for nearly a third of all traffic related deaths in the US. Of all the drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher who were involved in fatal vehicle crashes, 30% were aged 21-24. The next two largest groups were ages 25 to 34 (29%) and 35 to 44 (24%). Add to that the fact that drowsy driving is tied to another 1.2 million car crashes per year, and results in up to 500,000 injuries and 8,000 deaths, and texting and driving causes 25% of all car crashes and it’s clear that we have a serious problem with impaired and/or inattentive drivers in this country. Defensive driving has never been more necessary!
In order to maintain their sanity, police officers have to develop the ability to leave what happens on the job at the job and not drag it home. You have to either let it go or bury it so deep it can never resurface. But most of us also carry with us one or two incidents that we just can’t shake, the ones we just can’t forget. For me, it happened when I was a rookie, working one of my first (and particularly gruesome) car crashes in which a family’s van was t-boned by a drunk driver running a red light, ejecting three of the children from the rear seat on impact. Two younger children survived, with relatively superficial injuries, but a 9-year-old girl sustained a severed carotid artery. Despite our best efforts, she drew her last breath cradled in my arms.
The drunk driver was on his way home from his retirement party — after 30 years as an electrician. Prior to that party, he’d been sober for over 25 of those years. Since it was his big farewell, he wondered what could it hurt to have a couple of beers? Well, those first couple tasted awfully good, so he’d have a couple more — it was just beer, right? He wasn’t drinking the hard stuff, so he was sure he could handle it.
When it was time to leave, his friends and co-workers begged him for his keys, even called him a cab, but he would have none of it. He was driving himself home. It was a fatal decision on two counts – for the innocent little girl on the way home from an ice cream parlor with her family and for the retiree, from whom it would steal precious moments he would never get back with his family and close friends. He blew a .23% BAC on his breathalyzer test during booking, just shy of triple the maximum allowed. He had no recall when he awoke in his cell the next morning that his irresponsibility caused the death of a child, but he paid for it with the rest of his life.
In response to drunk-driving-related traffic deaths, many transport services have sprung up that can get both you and your vehicle home in the event you imbibe too heavily. If you don’t have a designated driver in your crowd, do everyone a favor and CALL ONE. If you don’t need your car early the next morning, leave it where it’s parked and use Uber, a taxi, or any available public transportation to get home. Or, use a service such as the nation-wide Be My Designated Driver (http://www.bemydd.com/) which offers service options, including sending two people to your location, one to drive you home in your vehicle, the other following behind to collect your driver after they get you home.
Such services aren’t cheap, but they are far less expensive than a DWI/DUI conviction, which jacks up your insurance premiums (in some states it doubles), often means a restricted drivers’ license (usually limiting driving to just work and back home, with no stops in between allowed for any reason), and often comes with a hefty fine and/or jail time.
And those are the least of the costs.
Nineteen percent of all children under the age of 14 killed in traffic accidents are passengers in the vehicle of someone who had too much to drink. Almost 1 in 5. If you have 5 kids, which one are you willing to sacrifice on the altar of reckless irresponsibility? . If someone dies in a crash you cause while under the influence, you’ll be facing far more serious, and costly, charges.
CDC data show that 1 in 10 teenagers in high school drink and drive, a lot considering most don’t get a driver’s license until they are 16. So wrap your mind around that: 10% of prom-aged kids admitted to drinking and driving. Is one of them you child’s prom date?
You and I both know the actual number is higher than that 10%. Throw into the mix the driving-while-texting teens will do to coordinate meet ups with other friends, and it’s an accident just waiting for that one second of inattention that changes lives forever. In fact, 11 teenagers are killed every day texting while driving. Your child may be the top student, star athlete, or the one nobody would ever expect to act irresponsibly, but he or she can still have moments of bad judgment that can cost a life, possibly his or her own.
Parents are the key to whether children take rules seriously. If they see you breaking them, they are more likely to follow your example. For most of my youth, I thought driving with an open beer between your legs and keeping a cooler within arm’s reach in the back seat was perfectly acceptable behavior. It took a class on liquor laws in the police academy to disabuse me of that notion, and even then I argued the point, because my parents did it all the time.
We encourage all of our MotorQueen members who are moms to download the free Parent-Teen driver agreement from the CDC and to have a serious talk with your teen about the responsibility and trust that come with the keys to a potential lethal weapon. Highlight the dire, usually unintended, consequences that can result when you take your eyes off the road for even a second. And that’s even if no alcohol is involved! Throw an inebriant into the mix and reflexes slow dramatically, making mishaps not only more likely, but probable!
Having this talk with your child is as important as the one about the birds and bees. It’s one most parents don’t want to have, but you must.
If you’re an adult with or without children, please drink responsibly. If you’ve had more than 2 drinks in an hour– one drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor (40% alcohol), 12 ounces of beer (4.5% alcohol), or 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol) — relinquish your keys to a sober individual. And you may as well get used to it, too, because the limit could be going lower than the current 0.08 — the National Transportation Safety Board is encouraging states to lower it to 0.05 or even less.
We value all our MotorQueen members, and would hate to lose any of you, or your loved ones, to a preventable tragedy. Motor on, but do so safely, and when you drink, have a designated driver lined up!
Your MQ Member Advocate