The holiday season begins with Thanksgiving and runs through New Year's Day, a six-week span of fun and festivities. But all that celebrating also brings additional road dangers as people increase their alcohol consumption at office parties, Christmas and Hanukkah gatherings, and New Year’s celebrations. Here's what you should know about the scope of the problem — and how to keep yourself safe on the roads this season.
The Dangers of Impaired Driving
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the period between Christmas and New Year's is the worst for drunk driving fatalities. The situation has worsened in recent years, with a 9% increase in drunk driving deaths in 2020. In 2021, overall traffic deaths were the highest recorded since 2006, indicating more dangerous roadways overall. Yet, despite Americans feeling vulnerable to drunk drivers, 48% admit that they drink more alcohol at family holiday parties than at any other time of year.
Alcohol isn’t the only substance that impairs driving. Many people are unaware of how medication can affect their driving ability. Laura Adams, safety and education analyst at DriversEd.com, urges drivers to be aware of the side effects of prescription medication.
“For those that take any prescription medications, be aware of their effect on you and how they interact," said Adams. "Ask your doctor if your driving ability may be affected.”
Even some over-the-counter medications like cold, flu, or allergy medication can cause nausea, drowsiness, and blurred vision.
Common Drinking and Driving Myths
Many drivers overestimate their ability to drive under the influence, while others operate under some false beliefs. Here are three common drinking and driving myths.
Drinking Coffee Will Sober Me Up
Coffee is not a quick fix. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can counteract the sedative effect of alcohol, but it won’t lower your blood alcohol level or immediately improve the effects of alcohol on your coordination and reaction time.
If I Stop Drinking, It’s Safe to Drive an Hour Later
In general, it takes approximately one to two hours for the body to metabolize one standard drink. However, other factors like your weight, number of drinks, how much you’ve eaten, and how tired you are, can also affect how quickly you recover from binge drinking.
If I’m Not Slurring My Words, I’m OK to Drive
Some drivers mistakenly think that if they don’t show typical signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech or unsteady walking, they are capable of driving safely. The truth is, your driving skills diminish long before you show outward physical signs of intoxication. At a 0.05% blood alcohol concentration level, you are already impaired and should not drive.
Stay Safe on the Roads This Holiday Season
There’s no denying that driving over the holiday season is risky. Not only are there more intoxicated drivers on the road, but winter weather brings additional hazards. Here’s how to stay safe on the roads this holiday season.
Don’t Drink and Drive. Period.
It doesn’t matter what you term it — whether you consider yourself buzzed, a little high, stoned, wasted, or drunk, you are impaired and should not get behind the wheel of a car. Impairment begins with just one drink, and in 49 states, the legal blood alcohol limit for driving is 0.08%. In Utah, it's lower: 0.05%.
In addition to causing injury or death, driving under the influence can also result in a DUI charge and possible jail time. Other consequences include fines, insurance increases, license suspension, and the installation of an ignition lock system on your car.
Plan How You Will Get Home
If you want to enjoy holiday season parties without worrying about buzzed driving, plan ahead. New Year’s Eve is one of the most dangerous days of the year to drive.
“If you plan on drinking or smoking marijuana on New Year’s Eve or at any other holiday celebration, do not drive yourself home," advises Adams. "Rely on a sober driver, taxi, or rideshare. Period.”
Don’t Ride with an Impaired Driver
If you’re a passenger, don’t get into a car with someone who isn’t sober. Driving with an impaired driver is just as dangerous as driving yourself if you're drunk. In 2020, 31% of people who died in alcohol-related car crashes were passengers. Don’t take the chance — call a taxi or rideshare for both you and the driver.
Take a Defensive Driving Course
To stay safe on the roads during the holiday season, consider taking a defensive driving course. A defensive driving course teaches you advanced driving skills. You’ll learn how to anticipate potential hazards and proper recovery techniques to prevent accidents. This is valuable protection against other drivers on the road.
Take the Weather into Consideration
Drunk drivers are a menace on the roads over the holidays. Add some harsh winter weather into the mix, and the roads can become lethal. To minimize risk, make sure you prepare your car for winter and take extra caution when driving in rainy, windy, or snowy weather — especially at night.
The period between Thanksgiving and New Year is a busy time on the roads. More people are driving cross-country to visit family, and there are more intoxicated drivers heading home from holiday parties. Don’t be one of those drivers. The best way to avert disaster is to drive sober, be extra vigilant, and stay home on peak days if you can.