December is Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month

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By Jeffrey Meyer, Certified Prevention Specialist

December marks a time of year of togetherness, family, and appreciation for all we hold dear. Yet you may be surprised to learn that statistically, December is one of the most dangerous months for driving. In fact the time between Christmas and New Year’s sees an average increase in fatalities involving alcohol impaired drivers by 34%. Perhaps it is then fitting that, by Presidential proclamation, December is deemed National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.

Just how big of an issue is impaired driving? First, it’s important to know the facts. Every day nearly 30 people in the United States die in a vehicle crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver, equating to one death every 51 minutes. Let us also not forget the non-fatal injuries that have the capacity to dramatically impact ones’ life, with someone experiencing an injury from an alcohol related crash every 2 minutes. The annual financial cost equates to more than $59 billion dollars, along with the incalculable toll on individuals and their families.

While driving while under the influence of alcohol tends to get the bulk of attention, drugged driving, driving under the influence of illegal drugs or prescription medications, is becoming an ever-more relevant problem. Annually, around 4,000 drivers are killed each year with drugs in their system, and that’s just counting those who were tested. In fact, drugs other than alcohol, such as marijuana, are involved in 18% of driver deaths. Once more, these drugs are often used in combination with alcohol, further exacerbating the impairment effects.

Statistics aside, how exactly do drugs and alcohol result in impairment and therefore dangerous driving? Both alcohol and marijuana are known to negatively impact ones’ coordination and reaction time, a potentially lethal combination on roadways where quick reactions are needed. Both also impair judgement as well as vision, namely peripheral vision, which can lead to potentially unnoticed road hazards. Many categories of prescription drugs can cause significant impairment, with symptoms such as drowsiness, confusion, and reduced judgment. Just as texting, talking on your cell phone, and other activities can distract drivers, driving impaired acts as a distraction for your mind, lessening your awareness and increasing the potential for making poor decisions.

Most people when confronted with these facts will undoubtedly assure themselves that they will never knowingly drive impaired. We must remember, however, that’s only part of the equation. The fact is we share the road, and those driving impaired not only endanger themselves, but put the rest of us at risk. For this reason, take the time this holiday season to encourage your friends and family to drive responsibly. By educating and setting a good example we can begin to turn the tide of impaired driving, and focus on the connectedness and joy that this time of year should truly be about.