Spotlight on Criminal Justice: National Impaired Driving Prevention Month – December
For millions of Americans, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are filled with food, fun, family and friends. But before reaching for that glass of eggnog and getting into the holiday spirits, remember that December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. People can save lives by planning ahead, using a ride-share service or designated driver, driving only when sober and encouraging others to do the same.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every president since 1981 has proclaimed December as National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month (now National Impaired Driving Prevention Month) in an effort to prevent impaired driving and encourage the use of designated drivers. On Nov. 30, 2023, President Joe Biden signed the annual proclamation recognizing the more than 10,0000 Americans who die each year in preventable car accidents. An estimated 26 million people drove under the influence in 2020, endangering themselves and everyone in their path. The Biden administration has asked Congress for $26 million to fund prevention, treatment and recovery services.
Alcohol is associated with more crime, violence and death than illicit substances.
- One person dies every 39 minutes as a result of drunk driving.
- Almost one-third of all driving fatalities are attributed to drunk driving.
- In 2021, 13.5 million people aged 16 or older reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year.
- Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities increased by 14 percent from 2020 to 2021.
- The highest rate of driving while impaired is among people 21 to 24 years old.
- Driving while impaired is more common among men, and 52 percent of alcohol-impaired fatalities involve drivers 21 to 34 years old.
- In 2021, 11.7 million people reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs, including marijuana. But drugged driving is hard to calculate because these substances, including prescription medication, stay in the system longer than alcohol and adequate testing to determine impairment does not yet exist.
- Many drivers who cause accidents have alcohol and other substances in their system, making it difficult to determine which substance had a greater effect on impairment.
- According to the National Safety Council (NSC), Christmas and New Year’s Eve are two of the most deadly days of the year.
Education and Prevention
Alcohol-impaired drivers include people who occasionally overimbibe and then drive, as well as persistent offenders who regularly drive under the influence. The traffic fatality rate for all categories of occupant and nonoccupant fatalities, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists, increased from 2020 to 2021. Alcohol-impaired driving, in addition to speeding and not wearing a seat belt, are major drivers of this increase. National Impaired Driving Prevention Month aims to educate Americans on the hazards and consequences associated with ingesting just one drink or one pill.
Alcohol and other substances, including prescription medication and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, impair driving abilities in different ways. Alcohol, marijuana, benzodiazepines and opiates slow coordination, judgment and reaction time. Stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines can increase aggressive and reckless driving. OTC medications can also induce drowsiness and dizziness, and ingesting more than one substance can amplify the effects of the substances in a person’s system. Even small amounts of alcohol combined with cold medicine or prescription medication can have disastrous outcomes. Women and older individuals metabolize alcohol differently, putting them more at risk for harmful outcomes.
Many organizations, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NSC and the NHTSA, offer comprehensive education and prevention resources for talking to children, teens and young adults about the dangers of alcohol, substance use and impaired driving. According to SAMHSA, there is no “right time” to talk to children about impaired driving, strategies to prevent impaired driving and ways to avoid being in a car with an impaired driver. In addition to committing to drive only while sober, individuals can encourage others to do the same. Planning in advance, establishing a designated driver, using public or alternative transportation, staying where you are until you are sober, or calling a loved one or friend can mean the difference between an arrest or accident—or between life and death.
Treatment and Recovery Resources
As referenced in September’s blog post on National Recovery Month, treating people with alcohol or substance use disorder is exceedingly difficult. Comprehensive treatment and recovery services are underfunded and hard to access. Stigma, finances, geographic location and the need for co-occurring treatment for mental health disorders are the primary barriers for individuals in need of treatment and recovery services. People who suspect that they or a loved one is in need of treatment services can contact their insurance provider, seek the assistance of their primary care physician or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline for free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information services. The two phone calls that can save a life are to a sober driver and, where appropriate, a treatment provider.
Drug overdoses and motor-vehicle accidents are the leading causes of preventable injury and death in the United States. As we look forward to the upcoming holidays and festivities, there is no better time to remind ourselves and our loved ones about the dangers of drunk or drugged driving. Having difficult conversations with others, prioritizing safety strategies and celebrating responsibly reduce the likelihood that there will be one less chair at next year’s table. If hosting, offer non-alcoholic options and ask guests to make safe travel arrangements. When someone feels different, they drive different—so catching a “buzz” this holiday season should also require catching a ride.