December Is Impaired Driving Awareness Month
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December Is Impaired Driving Awareness Month

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Drunk driving might seem like an abstract concept, but it’s ever present. In America, one person is killed every hour by a drunk driver. That’s more than 10,000 deaths every year, and hundreds of thousands of lives changed forever. Impaired driving isn’t just an issue for people with substance abuse: by some estimates, more than 40% of Americans admit to driving while impaired.

During December – amid all the holiday parties and new year celebrations – there’s a push to acknowledge the impact that impaired driving has on our communities. Here’s what you should know about impaired driving, and how to get help for yourself or someone you love.

Driving drunk starts before 0.08

We’ve all heard about the dangers of driving drunk. While the legal limit is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 g/dL, impairment can start well before that. Each year, about one-fifth of the fatal alcohol-related crashes involve a driver who had alcohol in their system, but who was not above the legal limit, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

During the holiday season it’s exceedingly common to meet friends for drinks or share a bottle of champagne at a work event. Even if you’re not drunk, you can still be a danger on the road. Just like there are gradations when it comes to substance abuse disorder, there is a scale when it comes to impaired driving. If you’ve had a drink or two it’s always best to err on the side of caution and catch a ride home. You’ll never regret not getting behind the wheel.

Thinking beyond drunk driving

Impaired driving goes beyond driving after a few drinks.

“Driving while impaired by any substance — legal or illegal — is dangerous,” the White House said in a recent press release. “Alcohol, illicit drugs, and even over-the-counter and prescription medications can impair a driver’s judgment, decrease motor coordination, and slow the reaction time necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle.”

It’s very important to keep drunk driving at the forefront of people’s minds. After all, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance. However, we need to realize that other substances can make drivers less safe too. This is critical as recreational cannabis becomes legal in states around the country. If you’ve engaged with any mind-altering substances, put your key away for the night. This includes not driving while taking new prescription medications, until you understand how they will affect you.

Who’s at risk?

Impaired driving tends to be more common among young people and men. A large part of the reason why the legal drinking age is 21 is to keep young and teen drivers from getting behind the wheel. Even so, about one-quarter of fatal accidents involving teens had a driver who was drunk.

Teens aren’t the only ones making harmful decisions though. Data shows that people drive impaired throughout their 20s and into their 30. Motorcyclists are most likely to drive drunk in their 40s. Overall, men drive drunk at about four times the rate that women do.

People with substance use disorder may be at particularly high risk of impaired driving. If you’re using drugs or alcohol frequently, you might feel like you’re “good at” driving impaired. Or, you might be under pressure not to call a friend for a ride in order to hide your behavior. If you begin driving impaired frequently, you’re putting yourself and others at risk and it’s probably time to seek treatment for substance use disorder.

How to prevent drunk driving

The best time to stop drunk driving is before anyone has had a drink. If you plan to go to a party, take a rideshare, or otherwise plan for how you’ll get home. If you’re hosting, ask that everyone have a sober ride lined up before the night starts. That will make it less likely that people try to drive after drinking. Remember, impairment begins even before you hit the legal limit.

If someone tries to drive drunk, it’s best not to be confrontational. Ask them to sleep over or call them a ride. If possible, bring a friend or two into the conversation – they might find it harder to say no to a group.

Pointing out someone’s dangerous behavior or drunk driving can be awkward, but that momentary pain could save a life.

Learn more about Oceanside Malibu at http://oceansidemalibu.com/. Reach Oceanside Malibu by phone at (866) 738-6550. Find Oceanside Malibu on Facebook.

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