Drinking Wonderland: The Spike in Drunk Driving during the Holiday Season

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Published on December 10, 2015

Winter is coming,  which means Christmas parties among friends, and that late night New Year’s Eve countdown.

It’s a safe bet for wine bottles to be uncorked, mixed drinks to be had, and champagne to be popped open. Whatever the reason – ringing in the new year with shots of Jameson or downing a glass of Moscato simply to tolerate all of your family in one place – it seems that the big three winter holidays is the green light to treat yourself with a little alcohol because let’s face it: it’s been a hard year and “you deserve it.”

Drunk Driving At Holidays3

The weather outside is turning frightful, but not as frightful as this seasonal uptick in drunk driving in the holiday season. Photo by Martin Florestant

But what happens after the party is over and your home is a few miles away? Many people believe that they are good to get behind the wheel after they have a cup of coffee,water, or sleep it off, despite the icy roads that come with the last quarter of the year.

The reality is the only remedy to a drunken state is simply time. You have no doubt seen those TV ads about how “ buzzed driving” is, in fact, “drunk driving”.

Even a small amount of alcohol in your system distorts your senses and brain, putting you in at least some risk. According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, those who are over the age of 21 need only .08 of BAC, or Blood Alcohol Content, to be considered legally drunk. This can be considered to be a little more than one shot but it is to be stressed that any amount of alcohol entering your system does, in fact, affect your brain and senses.

Joanne Anzenberger, Housatonic professor and former cop for the Stamford Police Department, sat down to talk about how this holiday spike comes about.

“The college kids are home,” she began. “A lot of the kids are stealing liquor from their parents’ cabinets.” Anzenberger went on to talk about the patrol of the holidays from a criminal justice perspective.

She explained that one of the main reasons you actually hear about the drunk drivers around this time of year is because of the extra cops that are put on patrol, specifically for DUIs. “[The state gets] grant money to pay officers to work overtime to work the DUI detail,” she added.

Because there are specific cops who are only meant to patrol the drunk drivers, this is where we get this specific crackdown of those who get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Anzenberger also discussed the drunk driving checkpoints that are on the roads on the more busier times of the year.

Anzenberger explained that people don’t realize they don’t have to drive through these checkpoints. However, they would ultimately be putting themselves at risk not driving through and would seem guilty by not doing so.

Johanna Krebs, the Program Manager for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), shared her thoughts on the subject with the holidays just around the corner. MADD began as a support group for those whose loved ones were lost to drunk driving and has expanded to become the nation’s largest nonprofit organization with local, national, and federal influence.

“It doesn’t have to happen,” Krebs said.

Krebs also talked about the new campaign that goes on from November to December called Tie One On For Safety, or TOOFS. This is a campaign to tie a red ribbon on your car to make the pledge to not drink and drive during this busy and slippery winter season. Krebs suggested that friends and partygoers, “Rotate that designated driver beforehand.” This is a safer alternative to having everyone in your circle drink and one of you ends up behind the wheel.

An article on the Telegram.com reports, “According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), deaths from drinking and driving spike around the holidays, with alcohol being blamed for about 52 percent of fatal collisions on Christmas and 57 percent on New Years compared to a rate of 41 percent for the entire year.”

Another night that is especially busy for bars is the eve of Thanksgiving, better known as Blackout Wednesday. According to joyelawfirm.com, “A recent phenomenon is the so-called “Blackout Wednesday” – when some college students and some young professionals drink to excess on the day before Thanksgiving because they don’t have school or work the next day. Many of these young people are visiting their hometowns for the holiday.”

For many young students who may still at home with their parents, they would rather take that risk of getting a DUI as opposed to calling mom and dad and facing their wrath after finding out they have been drinking underage. “They are scared,” Krebs explains.

But say that you do manage to snatch away your drunk friend’s keys. Krebs also mentions that “taking away the keys doesn’t take away the risk.” Whoever is the sober friend in the drinking circle should also make sure to see that each friend is taken care of– that they’re drinking water and not suffering from alcohol poisoning. They should not hesitate to take them to an ER if need be.

As far as quick sobering remedies, “there is nothing that works except time,” she says. Making sure they are hydrated and they are safely sleeping it off would be the best way to wake up the next day.

“There will be an increase of DUI during the holidays. That much is a given.” Anzenberger explains. “People are going to do what they want to do.”

But the state and organizations are making sure that accidents and deaths due to this can be somewhat lowered by informing students and young adults of these risks, especially around the holiday season.

For more information on MADD and how you can be a part of TOOFS, visit them at their website www.madd.org/ct. If you have lost someone or have been a victim of drunk driving or underage drinking, MADD also offers a 24 hour hotline to call and speak with a MADD advocate. Their number is 1-877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435).