This is a festive time of year to celebrate with family, friends and co-workers.  Unfortunately too often these celebrations adversely include accidents caused by impaired drivers. Whether you are remembering the year that was, or toasting what’s to come in the new year, more drivers will be taking to the nation’s roadways while under the influence of alcohol, or commonly, other substances.

A study by the National Institute for Highway Safety concluded that anything and everything you consume can impact your reaction time when driving. Some will stop for a coffee, candy bar, or other snack to provide a jolt of energy; to keep them alert and maintaining quick reactions. Some of those same individuals will argue that one or two drinks won’t affect the ability to drive. Any amount of alcohol or drugs in the bloodstream can impact driving ability. One half second longer in reaction time can mean the difference between a near miss and a funeral to attend—yours or someone else you involved.

Most holiday revelers will not recognize that critical driving-related skills and decision-making abilities are diminished long before they show physical signs of intoxication. We commonly hear of the driver arrested with a Blood Alcohol level that was twice the legal limit for intoxication. You don’t have to be fall down drunk to cause an accident.  

While you can’t control the actions of others, there are things you can do to help protect yourself from impaired drivers:

  • Drinking and driving is NOT socially acceptable. Asking for the keys of an impaired, or potential impaired driver, is acceptable. Being a designated driver and consuming non-alcoholic beverages is socially acceptable.
  • Be on the lookout for impaired drivers. Keep an eye out for vehicles that zigzag across lanes; straddle the center line; make wide turns; or swerve dangerously close to the curb, other vehicles or objects. Watch for those driving with headlights off at night, driving 10 mph or more below the speed limit, or following too closely. Be wary of other erratic behaviors such as rapid braking and accelerating, delayed responses to traffic signals, or signals that are inconsistent with the driver’s actions. These are all signs that the driver may be impaired.
  • Give impaired drivers extra space. If you suspect that a driver is impaired, stay clear of their vehicle, pull over to a safe and legal spot, and call 911 to report the location and description of the vehicle.
  • Keep your guard up day and night. Most impaired driving accidents occur in the late night or early morning hours, but around the holidays, that’s not necessarily the case. With an abundance of get-togethers this time of year, celebrations may, in fact, start earlier in the day. Stay alert, slow down and add space to react to traffic around you.
  • Wear your seat belt. If you are involved in an accident with an impaired driver, wearing your seat belt will help you maintain vehicle control and prevent you from being ejected.
  • Ride the right side. You can reduce the risk of being sideswiped or hit head-on by an impaired driver by driving slightly in the right side of your lane as oncoming vehicles approach.
  • Be extra cautious at intersections. When approaching an intersection, slow down and keep your eyes moving ahead, left, right and left again. Also, watch out for pedestrians who may be impaired or distracted by holiday festivities.

Remember, your safety is critical to your future.