Whether it’s beer at the ballgame, wine with dinner, or mimosas at brunch, alcohol is a major part of American culture. While an occasional drink isn’t necessarily harmful, drinking even one drink before getting behind the wheel of a car can be deadly. This article will help drivers better understand the dangers of drinking and driving.
Drinking and Driving Statistics
Every day, nearly 30 Americans die in drunk driving accidents. This amounts to roughly one alcohol-related vehicle death every 50 minutes. Overall, these alcohol-fueled crashes total about one-third of all crash fatalities.
The same pattern holds in Alabama. In 2018, 246 Alabamans died in alcohol-involved crashes. This number represented just over 25 percent of all fatal collisions in the state that year.
While these numbers are certainly concerning, they rise and fall throughout the year. Unfortunately, drunk driving increases sharply during the holidays – a period filled with parties and alcohol. In 2018, alcohol caused half of the traffic fatalities on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
These sobering numbers prove that drunk driving is a serious problem in Alabama and the nation as a whole.
The Dangers of Drinking and Driving
Alcohol alters the brain in many ways. Here are a few of the ways that alcohol affects a driver’s abilities and makes driving far more dangerous:
Concentration. Drivers must quickly process numerous pieces of information. Alcohol reduces the attention span, which makes it harder for drivers to focus on the road. One study found that drunken drivers were far more likely than sober drivers to swerve or otherwise drive dangerously when distracted.
Coordination. Safe drivers need good hand-eye coordination. But studies have found that alcohol reduces the brain’s ability to respond to visual cues. This reduction makes it more difficult for drivers to respond to sudden changes or hazards.
Drowsiness. Alcohol is a depressant. Depressant drugs create a sedative effect that makes people drowsy. Drowsy drivers are three times more likely to crash than rested motorists.
Impaired Vision. Drivers must see the road to drive safely. But alcohol often causes blurred vision. It can also affect pupil dilation, which makes it more difficult for drivers’ eyes to adjust to oncoming headlights. Alcohol can even affect peripheral vision.
Reduced Reaction Times. Quick reactions help drivers avoid hazards. But multiple studies have found that alcohol greatly reduces reaction times. While losing one-tenth of a second may not seem like much, a drunken driver cruising at 70 miles per hour would need an additional 12 feet to react to a threat. These 12 feet could be the difference between hitting another car or avoiding it.
Impaired Judgment. Drivers need to make important – even life-saving – decisions while behind the wheel. While alcohol is a depressant, it can also have a stimulant effect. The side effects of this stimulation can include overconfidence and a decreased inhibition. These two traits can lead drivers to take unnecessary, reckless risks.
How Many Drinks Are Too Many?
Though the facts above prove the dangers of drinking and driving, some drivers believe that one drink is no big deal. This is not the case.
In Alabama, as in most other states, a person is considered legally drunk when their blood alcohol level (BAC) reaches 0.08. However, the effects of alcohol begin much earlier. Even at a BAC of 0.02, a driver will begin to experience effects such as decreased vision, lowered concentration, and impaired judgment. A 200-pound-man can reach a BAC of 0.02 after just one drink.
The Dangers of Drinking and Driving in Alabama
Alabama takes drinking and driving very seriously. In Alabama, drunken drivers can suffer many consequences.
First, drunk drivers can be sued. Courts usually hold drunk drivers responsible for their victim’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. When drivers are particularly reckless, courts can award special damages – known as punitive damages – to punish the driver. In one recent case, the Alabama Supreme Court approved a verdict that awarded the victim 1.8 million in damages and another two million in punitive damages. While this is not a typical result, it proves that drunk driving is both dangerous and costly.
Second, in addition to lawsuits, drunk drivers can also face criminal charges. For a first offense, Alabama law allows drunk drivers to be jailed for up to a year, fined a maximum of $2,100, or both. Drivers can have their licenses suspended for 90 days. The punishments increase with each offense.
Finally, while this post focuses on drivers, people who serve alcohol can also be held responsible for drunk drivers. If a person or business continues to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk person and that drunk person causes an accident, the driver’s victims can sue the person or business that served the alcohol. (This is known as the “dram shop” law.) This law also applies to those who serve alcohol to those under 21.
Serving drinks might seem like the hallmark of a good host, but it is a serious responsibility. The Alabama Supreme Court recently approved a $15 million verdict against a convenience store that sold alcohol to an underage driver. This is an unusual verdict, but it puts drivers on notice that Alabama courts consider drinking and driving to be a serious offense.
How to Prevent Drinking and Driving
Though the dangers of drinking and driving are real, the good news is that they can be avoided. Following these tips can reduce drunken driving during the holidays and the rest of the year.
If you are a party guest or a driver:
– DO NOT DRIVE after drinking. Remember that even one drink can affect your driving ability. If you plan to drink, use a taxi, rideshare service, or designated driver to get home safely.
If you are a party host:
– Pay attention to guests that appear to have had too much to drink.
– Make sure that each guest has a safe ride home.
– Take the keys from any drunken guest that insists on driving.
– Provide food and snacks. (Food helps the body absorb alcohol.)
– NEVER serve alcohol to underage guests.
More Questions? Contact Us!
Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid the dangers of drunk driving. If you or someone you know has been hurt by a drunk driver, contact Collins Law, LLC. Our firm specializes in protecting the rights of the injured. Contact us today for a free consultation.