Preventing Impaired Driving During the Holidays

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So how do we keep people who’ve consumed alcohol off the roads during the holiday season? If it’s not you who’s had a drink or two, it’s a loved one, a friend, or a coworker. Maybe the person is noticeably inebriated. If so, intervening is usually pretty easy. You simply take away the individual’s car keys and say something along the lines of, “Hey, buddy, you’re drunk. Why don’t you call a cab or ask someone who’s not drinking take you home?”

The situation can be more difficult when the individual who’s been drinking is not noticeably impaired. A “buzzed” person is much less likely to voluntarily relinquish his or her keys. He or she may say, “I’m fine. It’s no problem.” Sometimes buzzed people — foolishly and mistakenly — argue that they’re better drivers after a couple of drinks because “they’re on their toes, paying attention because they don’t want to get pulled over.” The fact that they can make that argument with a straight face is a pretty good indication of how clouded their judgment actually is! One useful trick is to remind these folks that local law enforcement agencies nearly always step up their drunken driving patrols during the holidays. You can even outright lie if you need to, saying something like, “My pal the police officer told me on the sly that they’ve set up roadblocks tonight.” The fear of arrest will cause most people, even buzzed people, to exercise caution.

Happily, there are numerous other steps you can take to protect buzzed and/or drunk individuals from their own bad judgment. Most of these steps involve setting ground rules for the party in advance. For instance, if you’re throwing an office party that includes booze, make it a rule that to get your first drink you must relinquish your car keys, and make sure everyone knows the company will pay cab fare or otherwise provide rides so drinkers can get home safely after the party. At family gatherings and neighborhood parties, make sure everyone knows up-front that anyone who drinks, even a little, will not be allowed to drive home. Ask around before the party to find out who doesn’t drink — there will be more people than you think — and enlist them as designated drivers. If you have teenagers with driver’s licenses, hire them as a taxi service. You’d be surprised how much fun they’ll have babysitting the “sloppy” grown-ups! Plus, it’s a great way to subtly teach “monkey see, monkey do” kids a lesson in responsible drinking.

Of course, even with precautions, someone will get behind the wheel of a car having had one drink too many. Hopefully the worst that will happen is he or she ends up in jail for drunk driving. If this person has an obvious problem with alcohol, this is an excellent time to leverage their predicament by refusing to bail them out until they agree to go straight into a treatment center, or at least to a certain number of AA meetings. You might consider planning an intervention when the rest of the family is in town. Most alcoholics need to hit a “bottom” before they become willing to face their problem, and for many the humiliation (and expense) associated with an arrest can serve as the needed catalyst. If you truly care about this person, now is the time for action.

 –David Sack, M.D., Huffington Post

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