The weather outside may be frightful but it isn’t the only reason that driving during the holidays can be so dangerous. Since 1981, every president has declared December to be National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. And it’s no accident that the “happiest time of the year” was selected to raise awareness for such a somber subject.
It is estimated that nearly 40 million Americans drive under the influence each year, and a disproportionate number of those instances occur during the holiday season when festivities are in full swing. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has described the stretch between Christmas and New Years’ as one of the deadliest times to be on the road.
What is impaired driving?
Sometimes referred to as ‘driving under the influence’ or ‘driving while intoxicated, the definition of impaired driving is classified as anyone operating a motor vehicle who is distracted, drunk, or under the influence of other drugs. This term traditionally referred to alcohol consumption but has since been expanded to include any type of mind-altering substances.
The specific legal BAC limits, laws, and penalties for impaired driving can vary from state to state. They can range from license suspension to jail time, to confiscation of the vehicle – not to mention a litany of costly fines. The severity of these punishments can also vary depending on whether this is a repeat offense or if BAC is considered extraordinarily high.
How many drinks does it take to be considered impaired?
For all but one state, being “impaired” is having a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.08% or higher (the sole exception is Utah, which recently lowered the legal limit to 0.05%). BAC refers to the percentage of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream and can be affected by a number of factors such as age, weight, and how rapidly the drink(s) are consumed. There is no standard for the number of drinks it takes to be considered impaired – what may get one person buzzed could cause someone to be in danger of alcohol poisoning. As such, it can be more helpful to gauge the level of impairment by behavior that is associated with BAC levels:
- BAC 0.01 to 0.03 – Little to no effects beyond slight mood elevation (if any)
- BAC 0.04 to 0.06 – Feelings of warmth and relaxation begin to set in. Minor impairment of reasoning and memory
- BAC 0.07 to 0.09 – Balance, speech, vision, and motor control become slightly impaired
- BAC 0.10 to 0.12 – Coordination and judgment are significantly impaired. Speech is notably slurred
- BAC 0.13 to 0.15 – Major loss of motor function including loss of balance. Blurred vision and dysphoria begin to occur
- BAC 0.16 to 0.20 – The “sloppy drunk” stage. Dysphoria becomes more pronounced and nausea kicks in
- BAC 0.25 to 0.30 – Mental confusion. Dysphoria continues now with nausea and vomiting
- BAC 0.35 to 0.40 – Loss of consciousness, risk of coma
- BAC 0.40+ – Coma and respiratory failure is highly likely, can be fatal
But remember, impaired driving doesn’t only involve alcohol. California and Colorado have laws regarding the legal limit of THC and law enforcement can pull you over for texting while driving. Driving under the influence and driving distracted are both punishable by law as well.
Holiday Accident Statistics
Impaired driving accidents reach peak numbers during December, but particularly so in the stretch between Christmas and New Years’. The number of impaired-driving fatalities during this period almost doubles, accounting for nearly half of all traffic-related accidents.
- There are an average of 300 accident-related deaths between Christmas and New Years
- The average number of fatalities involved an impaired driver increases by 34% during this period
- 27% of fatal impaired driving crashes during the holidays happened on state highways
- Those between the ages of 25 and 34 are the majority of those killed in impaired driving accidents
- Texas is the state with the highest number of fatal impaired-driving related accidents, leading with 122 on Christmas, accounting for 13% of the national toll
When Drinking During the Holidays Goes Too Far
Getting into the holiday spirit doesn’t mean that you should let your drinking get out of control. If you find it difficult to turn down a drink – even when you know you should – you might have a drinking problem. Don’t become a statistic this holiday season, contact the compassionate staff at Amethyst Recovery Center, and gift yourself renewed hope for your future.