December, 2011

Have a Happier 2012 – If You Drink, Don’t Drive

Editorial Comments

by Deborah Steele Hazen

As we begin our annual review of local news over the past year, we want to wish our readers a happy new year.

We will write more next week in regard to our hope that 2012 will be a happier year than 2011, but we were asked recently by a reader to write once again about the problem of alcohol abuse and, specifically at this time of year, drunk driving.

Thanksgiving through Super Bowl weekend is one of the most dangerous times on American highways – in large part due to drunk drivers.

Our family has been touched personally by having a loved one killed by a drunk driver, and by the problems caused by alcoholism.

I cannot control the alcohol abuse of others, but one of the best things I ever did for myself and my family was to quit drinking almost 25 years. As someone who long ago realized the myriad of problems alcohol abuse causes, the continuing society-wide denial of the extent of its destructiveness is frustrating.

From suicides to broken relationships, from alcohol-related cancers to alcohol-related heart disease, from depression to domestic violence, from accidental falls to drunk driving fatalities, alcohol misuse, abuse and addiction takes a huge toll on our lives.

According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2009, 10,839 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. (And that doesn’t count all the people who died from alcohol-related causes other than drunk driving.)

Without in any way trying to minimalize the supreme sacrifice of American troops  in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years (6,316 in Iraq and 1,858 in Afghanistan, according to figures we were able to find on the Internet), the toll of one year’s worth of drunk driving fatalities in America exceeds 10 years of U.S. military combat deaths during the War on Terror.

Why aren’t more people outraged about this?

Consider these “sobering” statistics:

• Of the 1,314 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2009, 181 (14 percent) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.

• Of the 181 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2009, about half (92) were riding in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver.

• In 2009, over 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) – alcohol or narcotics. That’s less than one percent of the 147 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.

• Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18 percent of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol, and that would include “medical marijuana.”

• Alcohol-impaired driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

• On average, someone is killed by a drunk driver every 40 minutes. (NHTSA, 2008)

• In 2007, nearly 13,000 people were killed in drunk driving-related crashes. (NHTSA, 2008)

• Each year, approximately half a million people are injured in crashes where police reported that alcohol was present – an average of one person injured approximately every minute. (Blincoe, Seay et al., 2002)

• An estimated three of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash at some time in their lives. (NHTSA, 2001)

• Research shows that alcohol-related crashes cost the public an estimated $114.3 billion annually – this includes an estimated $63.2 billion lost in quality of life due to these crashes. (Taylor, Miller, and Cox, 2002)

• Approximately 1.46 million drivers were arrested in 2006 for DUII. This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 139 licensed drivers in the United States. (NHTSA, 2008)

•  About two-­thirds of all drunk driving arrests include a “first time” offender.  “First time” offenders  have typically driven drunk about 87 times before they are ever arrested and surveys show most of the offenders have alcohol dependency issues.

• About one-­third of all drivers arrested or convicted of DUII are repeat  offenders. These drivers are 40 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those  without prior DUIIs.

• In a recent study, 60 percent of those surveyed said they had operated a car or truck under the influence of alcohol or close to being under the influence of alcohol, up from 57 percent in 2000.

• Americans stand behind strong enforcement: 87 percent say they support the use of sobriety  checkpoints.

• Research has shown that highly publicized, highly visible, and frequent sobriety checkpoints  reduce alcohol­related crashes and fatalities by an average of 20 percent.

•  Eighty percent of Americans say they themselves would be discouraged from drinking and driving  by sobriety checkpoints.

• Forty states and the District of Columbia allow sobriety checkpoints. (Oregon does not.) All states allow saturation  patrols.

Have a happier 2012:

• Don’t drink and drive.

• Do whatever you can to stop others from drinking and driving.

• Cut down on your drinking; consider stopping altogether.

You might be surprised to learn that “happy” and “sober” can be synonymous.

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