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Fact Sheet

Drinking and driving


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So you go to a party, have a few drinks, and when the party dies down, you and your friends decide to move the party to another location. You get behind the wheel and, soon enough, there are red and blue lights flashing in your mirrors. Thought you were driving just fine? Think again.

Drunk driving, or drinking and driving, is a term used when one is driving under the influence of alcohol. No matter how much alcohol you have consumed—even if it’s under the legal limit provided by your state— your ability to drive may be impaired.

Alcohol may make you feel confident and more sociable at first, but the alcohol is essentially tricking your body into feeling that way. It stimulates areas of the brain that are related to relaxation and also dulls the area responsible for planning. Therefore, you may feel less stressed. However, alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows the central nervous system—which includes your brain—resulting in delayed reaction times, lack of coordination, and out of character behavior. In other words, all of these side effects have a direct negative impact on your driving.

So why do people still drink and drive?
● They believe they’re less drunk than they actually are.
● They feel confident that they can drive extra carefully and avoid incident.
● Their ability to rationalize is suppressed, leading them to make rash decisions.
● They want to escape personal problems.
● They are ashamed or afraid to call someone to pick them up.

How does alcohol affect different people?
Alcohol has different effects on different people for various reasons including gender, weight, how quickly the alcohol is consumed, etc. Alcohol can affect your own body differently on separate occasions as well. Even if you have had the same amount of alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may vary at different instances. (A BAC of 0.05 indicates that there is 0.05g of alcohol in every 100ml of blood in the body.)

BAC depending factors:
● Body size: a smaller person will have a higher BAC than a larger person
● Body fat: a person with more body fat will have a higher BAC than a person with less body fat
● Gender: a female will almost always have a higher BAC than a male even if she drinks the same concentration of alcohol as a male. This means that it takes fewer drinks for females to be at the legal limit, so be aware of how much alcohol you are consuming, ladies!

What happens when you’re caught?
After you see the red and blue flashing lights in your mirrors and you (hopefully) are able to properly park the car on the side of the street, an officer will come approach your car. The following may ensue:

● You may be asked to undergo a sobriety test. This includes being asked to walk in a straight line, stand on one leg, or follow a light with your eyes.
● If you fail the sobriety test, you will be given a breathalyzer test. In the United States the legal limit is 0.08% BAC.
● If the driver is under the age of 21, the Zero Tolerance law is also applicable. This law states that the legal BAC for those under 21—the legal drinking age—is 0.01% or 0.02%. It only requires 1 teaspoon of cough syrup to reach a BAC of 0.01%!
● The driver may then have their driver license revoked, be charged a fine, or be assigned community service, depending upon the state.

Besides for dealing with the considerable expense and inconvenience of having your license revoked for months or even years, there is also a wide range of personal, professional and safety reasons you should consider before taking the wheel under the influence.

Other Potential Consequences of Drinking and Driving:
● Severely or fatally injuring yourself. a passenger or another person on the road: This is especially taxing mentally and no one wants to live the rest of their life feeling guilty about one mistake they made.
● Financial burdens: If you crash the car and/or had to visit the hospital, you’ll likely face a huge setback in your savings. This could also negatively affect your parents’ insurance
● Future employment: Receiving a DUI shows up during your background check, and employers don’t want an irresponsible person working for them.
● Disappointment: We all know that having your parents be disappointed in you is much worse than dealing with their anger. It lasts longer and, once trust is lost, it will take time and effort to win it back.

In the moment, it can be hard to recall and fully weigh these long-term consequences, so it’s best not to put yourself in a compromised position in the first place.  This does not mean that you should never drink—though you can enjoy yourself equally well while sober. We simply recommend that you drink smartly (http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/drinking-smart) and don’t drive while under the influence.

What to do to avoid driving drunk?

● Before starting the party, pick a person in your group to be the designated driver. You can switch off every time you go out or come up with a fun game to pick the DD.
● Call a cab.
● Plan to take the bus or subway after the party.
● Call your parents. They will be happier that you called them instead of driving home drunk.
● Consider crashing at a friend’s place that is nearby.
● If your friend is drunk and thinking about driving home, take your friend’s keys and call a cab for them or find an alternative, safe method to get them home. For more tips, check out Helping a Drunk Friend: http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/helping-a-drunk-friend. 

Although current awareness regarding drunk driving has reduced the number of DUI related deaths and injuries, the laws surrounding drugged driving remain yet to be standardized. That doesn’t mean that driving while under the influence of drugs is less dangerous. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study conducted in 2009 found that 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one drug. Drugs affect your body in a similar way that alcohol does, including alteration of perception, lack of coordination and balance, and slow reaction times. Be aware of the facts and be responsible. For more information on drugs: http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/impact-of-drug-use-on-your-life

More Information:
Drug overview
CDC on Drinking and Driving
Above the Influence: Drinking

Where to Next?

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