This article appears in the November 2017 Family magazine.
The statistics about drunken driving are often quoted, and they should be sobering enough to stop people from getting behind the wheel when they’ve been drinking.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,265 people were killed in drunken driving-related crashes in 2015, an increase from the 9,967 people killed in 2014.
Despite the campaigns and warnings, people are overconfident in their driving skills, make poor decisions or just don’t care.
Some states take more aggressive or more lenient approaches to driving under the influence, according to a new WalletHub survey that compared drunken driving penalties. Arizona has the harshest, including long jail terms. South Dakota is most lenient on drunken drivers thanks to no mandatory jail time.
The average fine nationwide for a first DUI is $352. Eighty-eight percent of states require offenders to equip their vehicles with ignition interlock devices after a drunken driving conviction. DUI offenses stay on your criminal record for at least six years in 84 percent of states, but they remain for life in five states.
If you’re concerned about loved ones drinking and driving this holiday season, here are some tips from the experts.
Designate a driver
Families and friends have a responsibility to prevent friends from driving drunk. That starts with designating a driver.
“The bottom line is that many well-intentioned individuals do not realize they are over the legal limit to drive. You should encourage loved ones to find designated drivers who are fully committed to not consuming any alcoholic beverages,” said Ryan Smith, senior research associate in the Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “Our friends and loved ones need to understand that while we may feel safe to drive after drinking, we are often unaware of our level of intoxication. Smart drinking decisions should be made prior to the first drink, and we should all consider not consuming any alcohol if we may be driving.”
Lead by example
“Be a good example. People tend to adopt similar practices and behaviors of their peer group simply because they are with them the majority of the time. This is especially true with younger adults and teens,” said Marisa Auguste, behavioral analyst for the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center at the University of Connecticut. “If a person demonstrates safe driving practices, such as not driving impaired and always designating a sober driver when they do drink, their friends and family will be encouraged to do the same. Also, make sure to hold yourself accountable for your behavior.”
“Whenever there is the possibility that someone may drive impaired, make sure to have a plan in place that includes a sober driver or using alternative transportation such as a taxi, Uber or public transit. Open and honest communication about the dangers — personal, financial, social — associated with drunk driving will hopefully make someone think twice,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a Washington, D.C., non-profit whose members are from the country’s state highway safety offices.
Make it socially unacceptable
“Within your family and social groups, make it socially unacceptable to drink and drive — not even one drink is safe to get behind the wheel. Be vocal about it with family and friends in a caring and loving manner,” said Federico Vaca, professor of emergency medicine in the Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine.
Download the app
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s SafeRider app allows users to call a taxi or a predetermined friend, and identifies the user’s location so they can be picked up.