Drinking and driving a commonplace problem

  • Published
  • By Jeff Peacock
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program counselor
"This is the first time I have ever driven a vehicle after drinking!"  How many times has this statement been made when someone is charged with a DUI?  What is the probability that the statement is true?  As an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program counselor, I want to address these inquiries, but first lay the foundation behind the questions.

Although we often do not think about it, driving takes your full attention to focus and maintain good hand-eye coordination.  At times we must make critical life-preserving judgments in less than a second.  Drinking will not improve your driving skill.

Indeed, impairment begins with the first drink.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, even a low percentage of blood alcohol content will impair driving.  Compare these BAC statistics regarding the risk of single-vehicle fatal crashes against the driver who has not consumed any alcohol:

.02 to .04 BAC = 1.4 times greater risk for a crash
.05 to .09 BAC = 11.1 times greater risk for a crash
.10 to .14 BAC = 48 times greater risk for a crash
above .15 BAC = 380 times greater risk for a crash

As the numbers demonstrate, impairment begins with the first drink.  The average 180-lb. male's BAC would be approximately .02 with one standard drink.  The average 120-lb. female's BAC would be .03 with one drink.  Just one drink could create a situation where a person is almost twice as likely to get in a fatal car accident, compared to the person who drove without drinking. 

Yet how many times do drivers presume after "having a few," they are "good to go?"  These drivers have a skewed sense of math and logic.  The thought process is:  "I drank two or three last weekend and drove home with no difficulties or trouble.  Several weeks ago, I even drank five (okay, maybe seven drinks), but it was over the course of the whole evening.  I then drove my buddy home and then drove myself home and I had no problems."

The Centers for Disease Control note a person charged with DUI for the first time has done the crime 80 times prior to the arrest.  If the person is in the armed forces, this also represents 80 occasions where the military's wingman/battle buddy system was not satisfactorily employed.

The CDC also reports there are approximately 112 million annual incidents of people drinking and driving.  This is about 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving each and every day.  What are the implications?  Nearly 11,000 people are killed every year in crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, according to CDC Director, Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

Roughly 30 people are killed from a DUI incident every 48 minutes, according to the CDC.

For all practical purposes, impaired drivers are operating a speeding missile without an adequate guidance control system.  Will such statistics ever affect you?  Approximately one in three people will be involved in a drunk-driving crash in their lifetime, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Remember, this is because for every charge of DUI, the person has already been guilty of the offense 80 times prior.  What can be done?

Here is the simple, but vital message: please do not drink and drive!  The message is not: do not drink too much and drive.  Again, impairment begins with the first drink.  Therefore, "do not drink and drive" is the fundamental imperative.

The only way to ensure you do not cause a drinking and driving incident is to avoid driving after consuming any amount of alcohol.

Again, if you have driven once after consuming alcohol, you have likely already done it many times.  This repeated endeavor is akin to kidding yourself with a joke that is profoundly not funny.  Indeed, it is tragic.  Fellow motorists, pedestrians, your community, your commander, your first sergeant, your loved ones, and even you will ultimately be thankful in either never starting this behavior or stopping it immediately.

In the time it took to read this article, another two people were at least injured in a drunk driving crash.   Driving is complex enough.  Complicating it 80 times over with a mood-altering substance is gambling with lives, yours and others.  Please do not drink and drive.