The irrepressible Tom Johnson reported recently on Louisville Juice that according to the CDC drunk driving in the U.S. continues its steep decline – to the tune of a 30% drop in self-reported annual drinking and driving episodes since 2006.
Tom goes on to say that “fatalities related to drinking and driving have dropped nearly 70% since 1982, from 26,000 to 11,000.”
Your first reaction to all of that good news (and it is very good news – because also according to the CDC, “car crashes are the leading cause of death for everyone ages 5-34 and that 1 in 3 crash deaths involves a drunk driver” – so any drop in drunk driving equates to a potentially significant reduction in preventable fatalities), like mine, was probably “holy crap, that’s awesome!”
But… it’s not quite time just yet to pop the bubbly in celebration (assuming of course that you’ve got a designated driver if not popping those corks in the safety of your own home!). As someone who often has to drive myself to and from functions where alcohol is involved (in the function, that is, not in the driving!), I’m the kind of guy who often pays particular attention to trying to do whatever I can to prevent tragic alcohol-related disasters. Rule the first at wine events: SPIT (and gently admonish organizers if they don’t provide spit cups or buckets)!
And while we’ve come a long way, baby, in terms of one of those tragic disasters (drunk driving), we’ve also got a long way to go, baby…
In its latest findings, the CDC also included some (for lack of a better term) sobering statistics related to drunk driving in the U.S.:
- In 2010, adults in the U.S. drove drunk some 112 million times – still way, way too high for anyone to feel reasonably comfortable about the safety of driving on our roadways.
- Most drunk driving episodes (85% of them) were self-reported by binge drinkers (defined as those who have “5 or more drinks for men or 4 or more drinks for women during a short period of time.” If the self-reporting is even remotely accurate, this means that a few bad apples are seriously ruining the bunch and making our roads less safe for the more responsible among us.
- Sorry, guys, but we totally suck: 81% (about 4 in every 5) of drunk driving episodes were by men. Especially young men (aged 21-34), who made up 32% of all drunk driving instances in 2010 but only make up about 11% of the U.S. population.
What does this tell us?
While it’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions (at least one source – The Washington Post – suggested that the down economy might be partially responsible for the reduction in drunk driving), it certainly looks like young men have a long way to go and might not be getting the education they need in terms of preventing drunk driving incidents, and binge drinkers might not be getting the help that they need to get better generally.
Having said that, I’m a big proponent of taking personal responsibility, getting off your duff, and doing something about it when there’s a problem – and when it comes to drinking and driving in the U.S., there is most definitely still a problem. To that end, I’ll share the CDC’s tips for individuals to help put the steel boot on the wheels of drinking of driving:
- Choose not to drink and drive and help others do the same: Before drinking, designate a nondrinking driver when with a group. If out drinking, get a ride home or call a taxi. Don’t let friends drink and drive.
- Choose not to binge drink yourself and help others not to do it.
- Talk with a doctor or nurse about drinking and driving and get counseling if drinking is causing you health, work, or social problems.
- Buckle up every time, no matter how short the trip. Encourage passengers in the car to buckle up, including those in the back seat.
Do I take those seriously? Look at it this way – I often have to drive my daughter the three blocks distance from the flower shop where my wife sometimes works to our house. I buckle us both up for that trip, and it lasts about 90 seconds.
I’ll leave you with this bit of inspiration to help you think twice about getting behind the wheel in the future after you’ve been tying one on one, courtesy of quirky rocker-turned-wine-guy Les Claypool (who I very recently interviewed):
“Drunk driving is quite possibly the most selfish, irresponsible, asinine and dipsh*tty-ist thing that a human being could partake in. It is my opinion that a person who is responsible for harming any individual while driving intoxicated should be tied down whilst having their eyeballs sucked out by a randy male goat.”
In my home state of PA, DUI infractions can net you anywhere from 5 days to 5 years in jail, along with thousands of dollars in fines, but that might be small beer in relation to the knowledge of how much of a dipsh*t you were drinking and driving in the first place – and as for the randy goat suggestion by Les… well, that would be some fitting punishment!
Cheers – and stay safe (and responsible!) out there!