It’s no coincidence that National Impaired Driving Prevention Month falls in December. Each year, drunk or drug-impaired driving robs countless families of the opportunity to share the holidays with their loved ones. New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve are traditionally two of the biggest party nights of the year. In the month of December between 2017 and 2021, more than 4,500 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Sue Strong, the program coordinator for the Michigan chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving® (MADD) has already spent ample time getting the organization’s messaging out there this holiday season.
“It actually starts (getting worse) in November,” Strong said. “There’s a 40% increase of people driving under the influence during the holiday period between November and the first of January.”
On Nov. 16, Strong was a part of a victim impact panel in Oakland County. Flanked by Bloomfield Township police officers and first responders, Strong invited four victims to share their tragic experiences with impaired driving. The event was filmed and shared ahead of Thanksgiving to discourage individuals from drinking and driving after holiday parties. First or second-time offenders of driving under the influence were court-ordered to attend the event, as well.
“It’s a great event, we have red ribbons that the officers tie around the side mirrors on their cruiser,” Strong said. “It’s just to bring awareness to the uptick of driving under the influence during the holidays.”
During the panel, Strong said one of the speakers was a victim who lost his father, stepmother, 12-year-old brother and 4-year-old brother to a drunk-driving crash around the holidays. The man was only 10 years old at the time.
“After the panel, we gave the offenders a survey,” Strong said. “One of the questions is, ‘what made you think you were fine to drive?’’ Being under the influence, you are not thinking clearly. You’re not making the right decision. You could have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.07, which is legal in Michigan, but even if you’re at that level, you’re making a bad decision to get behind that wheel. Because that vehicle becomes a killing machine.”
Impaired driving on the rise in Michigan since the COVID-19 pandemic
Strong said her many surveys over the past few years have revealed higher average BAC among participants.
“I’m seeing a high increase in BAC levels, like 0.17, 0.18,” Strong said. “Some over 1.00, a lot that are 0.16 are higher. Before 2020, you’d see highs maybe between 0.13 and 0.15, from what I’d seen over the last 10.5 years. This past year, it’s been very high. Since the pandemic, those numbers have not curtailed. People still believe they’re the only ones on the road.”
This holiday season, more than 21 million instances of drunk driving on U.S. roads are expected for the holiday period between November 1 and January 1 of 2023, according to MADD.
Michigan state police release a drunk driving audit report each July for the previous year. Between 2021 and 2022, 12,881 Michiganders were injured in impaired driving crashes – encompassing both alcohol and drug-involved crashes.
“So, then you have to think, what kind of injuries did they receive?’ Strong asked. “Was it head trauma? A broken leg? When the airbags popped up did it crack a rib or puncture a lung? Are these life-sustaining injuries? I have a victim that speaks for me and her 19-year-old son was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a crash. This is what I try to get across to offenders in victim impact panels.”
A total of 959 people were killed in drug or alcohol-related crashes during those same two years.
“We use the word ‘crash’ when speaking (because) they are not considered an accident,” Strong said. “As humans we have accidents like spilling a glass of milk. A crash is 100% preventable.”
Tips from MADD: how to celebrate the holidays safely
As Christmas and New Year’s approach, Strong provided some advice as to how party-goers can avoid getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
“If you’re having a party, make sure the host is taking keys from the people coming in,” Strong said. “Make sure there’s a designated driver. How many friends or family members tell people, ‘hey if you’re going to drink, gimme a call if you need a ride.’ Take advantage of that. It’s going to save your life and it’s going to save others lives on the road. And it’ll prevent you from being out at least $10,000. It’s at least $10,000 for your first offense. You can serve non-alcoholic beverages. You just want everybody to have fun and make it home safe and be at that place setting at the table.”
Here are a few other measures to consider taking before heading out to a holiday part this year:
Make a plan to get home before the event: This can include designating a sober driver ahead of time, planning to use public transportation, or ordering a taxi or rideshare.
Set limits on consumption: Set a maximum number of drinks to consume before arriving at a party and stick to it. Alert a friend of that limit for accountability’s sake, if necessary. Also, pacing at a party where a lot of alcohol is present is important. Try having a glass of water – also known as a “spacer” – between drinks. Consider eating before and while drinking, avoiding highly alcoholic drinks and drinking out of a smaller glass.
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