The longest holiday period is just ahead, eleven days, to be exact, from December 23 through January 2, 2012. For nearly 92 million Americans, that means getting in the car and traveling to visit family, friends or to take a well-earned and much-needed vacation.
That’s the estimate from AAA on the number of Americans traveling this holiday period.
But keep this caution front and center as you get ready to pack your bags and head out on the highway. Drinking and driving not only don’t mix, they’re a recipe for disaster. Statistically speaking, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes in the Christmas to New Year’s timeframe than any other time of the year.
Just in time for the holiday getaway, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has some important information about drinking and driving that all drivers should pay attention to:
- Alcohol’s effects begin quickly, much quicker than we might think.
- Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant, but it soon affects judgment, lowers inhibitions, and could lead to reckless behavior behind the wheel.
- The more alcohol drivers consume, the more their reaction time increases and the less they’re able to control their behavior, which could lead to aggressive driving, even more risk-taking and potentially deadly consequences for the driver and family members or other occupants, as well as others on the road.
- Continued drinking leads to the kind of slurred speech and jerky movements we typically associate with someone who’s drunk.
- At some point, when the body has too much alcohol and the alcohol depresses vital functions, the driver becomes sleepy or may even pass out behind the wheel.
Beware of the old recommendations to load up on the caffeine before getting back on the road after drinking. That’s a myth. What drinking coffee does is to temporarily help you combat drowsiness, but it can’t do anything to eliminate alcohol that’s already in your body. That takes time to dissipate, hours for the body to metabolize the alcohol and return the driver to a normal state.
When you’re trying to drive the family home from a get-together or celebration, no amount of caffeine is going to make you sober up any quicker. The only solution, at that point, is to have someone else drive who has not been drinking. Do not assume that it’s okay to ask another person to take the wheel who’s also been drinking, under the mistaken belief that they seem to be fit to drive. The only one who should be a designated driver is one who hasn’t been drinking, period.
Why take the chance with your family and loved ones this holiday period? Make it a sober and safe time by curtailing your drinking this year. If you do plan to drink, stay home or stay the night. Arrange for alternate transportation. Call a cab or the tipsy-driver services available in some states and municipalities.
For more tips and information on what constitutes a drink, how alcohol affects the body, and how to cut back or cut out drinking this holiday season, see the NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking website.
If you need more convincing, see our earlier article Holiday Crackdown on Drunk Driving in Force Dec. 16-Jan. 1.