Drunk Driving and the Holidays
From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve tens of millions of us travel, and too many of us drink and drive. Add to that winter weather conditions and long hours of darkness, and what results are some of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road.
An estimated 98.6 million Americans travelled fifty miles or more from their home during the 2014 holiday season (December 23 through January 4) with another estimated 46.3 million travelling during Thanksgiving. It’s also estimated that about 70,000 Americans will be seriously injured in auto accidents, and more than 680 will die during the holiday season, according to USA Today.
The Not Most Wonderful Time of the Year to be Driving
The National Safety Council (NSC) states that on various holidays the number of people travelling increases, but it’s the holidays most associated with alcohol consumption that have the increased numbers of injuries and deaths in traffic accidents. Christmas doesn’t have the statistical increase that New Year’s Day and Independence Day do.
- Over the New Year’s holiday in the period from 2007 to 2011, an estimated 42% of traffic fatalities were the result of drinking and driving.
- On Christmas, about 35% of accidents were related to drinking and driving — less than any of the six major holidays.
The NSC lists Thanksgiving as the third most dangerous holiday, after the Independence Day and Memorial Day holidays.
- Between 2006 and 2011, traffic deaths occurring around the Thanksgiving holiday accounted for nearly 15% of all vehicle-related fatalities for November.
- There were 623 driving fatalities for Thanksgiving 2005; by 2013 it dropped to 436, but that year there were also 46,600 nonfatal injuries.
The NSC states that though bad winter weather can make driving hazardous, it also keeps people off the roads. There are more fatalities when the weather is clear because there is more traffic. The number of vehicles on the road is also higher if the economy is doing well and when holidays fall on weekends.
Drunk Drivers Are a Danger Year Round
On average, every day nearly thirty people in the United States are killed in motor vehicle crashes involving an intoxicated driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That comes to one death every 51 minutes. From 2003 to 2012, an estimated 1,816 people were killed in New Jersey in accidents related to drunk driving.
The CDC provides the following estimates for 2013:
- 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-related vehicle accidents.
- This accounts for almost one third of all traffic accident deaths in the country.
- About 17% of children ages 0 to 14 killed in traffic accidents died in crashes involving drunk drivers, or 200 of 1,149 traffic deaths. More than half of those children (121) were in vehicles driven by impaired drivers.
More than 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2010, according to the CDC. As impressive as that sounds that’s only about one percent of the 112 million self-reported instances of drunk driving by U.S. adults annually. In a survey, about three out of every 200 New Jersey residents questioned admitted to driving after drinking too much.
Alcohol isn’t the only substance making driving dangerous. Drugs such as marijuana and cocaine are involved in an estimated 18% of vehicle drivers’ deaths. Often drivers will mix drugs and alcohol.
The financial cost of the damage done by drunk drivers is an estimated $59 billion a year. To put it in perspective, compare that figure to the following:
- $59 billion was budgeted for all of China’s military in 2008.
- The State of New Jersey’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget is $33.1 billion.
- New Jersey’s largest employer, Wakefern Foods, Inc., had $15.7 billion in sales from October 2014 to October 2015.
How Alcohol and Drugs Make Drivers Dangerous
Alcohol and drugs can seriously impair driving abilities. Someone who may be a safe, competent driver when sober can turn into a threat to themselves and others if intoxicated, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The following are impaired after a driver uses alcohol:
- Judgment: Judgment is based on experience and knowledge and ideally can be used quickly when facing a problem. Alcohol and other drugs impact the parts of the brain controlling judgment, resulting in a driver’s taking risks he or she normally would not (like speeding or running a red light).
- Vision: Alcohol and some other drugs can result in blurred vision, slowing the ability to focus and causing double vision. The ability to judge distance and speed can also be impaired. Vision helps a driver judge the distance to an object and its position relative to hispath of travel. As the level of blood alcohol increases, the driver may cross the road’s centerline, wander from lane to lane, or even drive off the road.
- Color Distinction: Alcohol and other drugs impair one’s ability to accurately see colors, such as yellow lane markers and red stop signs.
- Reaction Time: The ability to process information and respond to a situation can be impaired by alcohol and drugs, causing a driver to lose his or her bearings or fail to react appropriately to traffic or road conditions. Drivers under the influence often become drowsy and less alert.
Don’t Be the Drunk Behind the Wheel
Depending on where you live and what you plan to do, there are several alternatives to drinking and driving. Here are some tips to keep you and your friends safe:
- Don’t drink; or arrange for a designated driver who won’t drink alcohol. Some establishments provide free non-alcoholic drinks for designated drivers.
- If you’re close enough, consider walking to and from the event.
- Use public transit.
- Use a cab, Uber or Lyft to get you from one place to another. Uber claims its service has helped decrease the rate of alcohol-related traffic accidents in California of those aged 30 and under by 6.5% from 2011 to 2013, according to Reuters. The company also released the results of a December 2014 survey stating that people in Uber’s service areas are less likely to drive home after drinking alcohol.
In Case You Become Injured in a Vehicle Accident
If you are out with family and friends and you or a loved one is injured in an accident, the drunk driver and possibly others may be held responsible for compensating you for your injuries and property loss.
After an accident, call the police; get medical attention as soon as possible. If you feel you can’t safely drive your vehicle, ask for an ambulance. If your injuries are not that serious, get examined by your local hospital or physician as soon as possible. Prompt medical attention is critical for personal and legal reasons.
- After an accident you may have so much adrenaline in your system that you can’t feel the pain from injuries. You could be in a state of shock and not fully aware of what has happened to you. Your safety and health need to be your priority.
- If you file legal claims due to the accident, the longer you delayed in seeing a health care professional the more likely it is that the insurance company will deny that the injuries are accident-related. It may claim the injuries have been fabricated or are the result of another, unrelated incident.
There are things you can do at the accident scene to help your case, but don’t risk your safety, and don’t interfere with first responders,
- You or another person should use your camera or smart phone to take photos or videos of the accident scene, the damage to the vehicles, injuries to people and the road conditions.
- If the other driver is conscious, note whether he or she acts intoxicated. Are there any bottles or cans of alcoholic drinks in the other car? Is the other driver going through a sobriety test at the scene? If so, photos or video could be very helpful.
- Try to get the names of the police officers at the scene so we can follow up.
If the driver who caused your accident is intoxicated after drinking at an establishment with a liquor license, that business may face liability in a personal injury lawsuit. A licensed server can be found to have negligently served someone if he or she provided alcoholic beverages to a visibly intoxicated patron or to a minor, if the server knew or should have known the person was a minor. If the driver drank too much at a holiday party, New Jersey law establishes “social responsibility” for the hosts under some circumstances.
This holiday season, don’t take the risk of drinking and driving. Don’t endanger your life and the lives of others because of poor judgment. If you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver, contact our office 1-855-432-2489, so we can talk about what happened, the applicable laws, how we investigate these accidents to help you build your case and possible compensation for your injuries.
We protect our clients’ rights to fair compensation for injuries caused by the negligence and willful acts of drunk drivers. We help our clients get the best medical care possible and deal with insurance companies so our clients won’t have to. We pride ourselves on helping them recover from the accident so they can get their lives back on track and spend many more enjoyable holidays with family and friends.