This post was originally published on December 31, 2014.
New Year’s Eve is upon us and the “Don’t Drink & Drive” awareness campaigns by government agencies, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the beer companies and even some creative types are plastered all over billboards, the airwaves and on social media. And with good reason. New Year’s Day is one of the deadliest times for drunk driving accidents, with most of the fatalities occurring between when the ball drops at midnight and 6 am. Not all of the drivers in those crashes are drunk, but 50 percent of them typically are.
There’s a reason it’s called amateur night and even normal drinkers almost feel obligated to get hammered on New Year’s Eve. And for a drunk like me, I always felt the need to get especially tuned up on the holiday, with some of my most horrifying nights of debauchery coming on this night (and usually well into the next day). And when I drink, I drive (three DUI arrests, and there should have been more).
But even with ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft bolstering the number of (theoretically) sober rides home in some cities, it’s still usually a pain in the ass to get a ride on New Year’s, unless you don’t mind waiting around drunk for an hour or two (a brutal prospect if you live in cold weather cities like Boston or New York). And crowding into a cattle car on the subway with other drunks coming home from celebrations isn’t particularly appealing either. So obviously, the smart plan is to go someplace where you can just walk home. What could be safer?
Apparently a lot of things.
While driving drunk to get home on New Year’s is the worst idea possible (other than say, flying a plane drunk), walking home drunk is no guarantee of safety either, especially if you’re truly hammered. In her excellent Mother Jones article, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Walk Drunk,” Maddie Oatman compiles some pretty interesting info on drunk walking on the holiday.
According to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on car crash fatalities between 1986 and 2002, New Year’s Day is the number one day for pedestrian deaths (with the bulk coming between 12 and 6 am): an average of 24 each year. And things haven’t gotten any better since that study was conducted. A second report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came up with similar findings when they did a study covering 2008 to 2012.
New Year’s just edges out Halloween in terms of fatalities recorded by date, possibly because drivers are more likely to notice a pedestrian dressed as a giant orange pumpkin or a sexy nurse than one dressed in regular dark clothing.
The most shocking thing about the reports, however, is that while the drivers that hit the pedestrians throughout the year were legally drunk (a blood alcohol content exceeding .08 percent) only 14 percent of the time, the pedestrians were drunk 34 percent of the time. And on New Year’s Day, the percentage of drunk pedestrians shot up to nearly 60 percent. So it’s not always the driver at fault.
This, upon reflection, makes some sense, since drunks aren’t known for their good decision making while under the influence. With legally drunk blood alcohol levels of .1 to .15, alcohol travels to the midbrain, where muscle coordination, vision and speech are controlled, according to an article by addiction specialist Dr. David Sack. With this amount of booze on board, people will usually sway, slur their speech and have poor visual coordination. So wandering into traffic, darting out between parked cars or laying down in the middle of the road are pretty standard drunk behaviors. Throw in some dark clothes, and voila! A drunk walking accident.
There are plenty of guidelines for what to do if you’re planning on drinking and walking, most of which involve common sense: Don’t wear dark clothes, and if you must, wear reflective tape or carry a light; walk on sidewalks and cross at designated intersections; walk with other (hopefully sober) people; and the best one: Grab a pillow, not a cab.
There’s also an app that can help you make a decision on how you should make your way home drunk called If I Drink, which simulates how you will walk (or drive) after consuming some drinks. I plugged in my usual warm up drinking (10 drinks in four hours at 180 pounds), which produced a .192 blood alcohol level and showed me a simulated video of what I would look like walking.
I think I’ll just stay sober again this New Year’s.