New Years Eve: Amateur Night!

Three….Two….One….Happy New Year!!!!

The joys of celebrating the New Year echo in eternity. I can remember as a kid going outside and banging on pots and pans to celebrate the passing of a year. It’s a wonderful time filled with laughter and fun. Sadly, this joyous occasion often gets marred by the news of injured or even dead revelers who decided to drink and drive.

Although Thanksgiving is the deadliest night for alcohol related driving fatalities, New Years Eve comes in at a close second. In 2008, nearly 16,000 US citizens were killed in Drunk Driving accidents with almost 500,000 injuries. A person is killed every one half hour due to drunk driving and every other minute a person is injured due to an alcohol related accident. Over 40% of fatal automobile accidents are alcohol related and nearly 30% of all Americans will be in an accident involving alcohol in some way.

I do not want to preach to everyone, nor do I want to destroy any plans for you for your New Year’s celebration. Rather, I want to caution you and try to keep you safe. As a firefighter and NREMT-B, seeing the devastation of an alcohol involved motor vehicle accident is, to say the very least, an eye opening event. As a mental health therapist, to counsel the families of the deceased is a painful and heart wrenching experience. As I view the accidents on both sides, it gives me the ability to counsel realistically, but it also makes me the advocate for the designated driver or safer alternatives to the nights of heavy drinking.

Why do we drink and feel the need to drive? Quite simply, it is a matter of impaired judgment and reasoning. People will often think they can drive safely because they “only had a few” when in fact they are beyond the legal limit for alcohol consumption. In almost every state, the legal BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) is under a .08% and the legal drinking age is 21. This translates to approximately 4 drinks in one hour for a 175 pound man and 3 drinks in one hour for a 138 pound woman. During the holiday seasons, people are often caught up in the celebration versus counting their alcohol consumption rates. One drink leads to another leads to another which leads to another and so on. More alcohol related deaths occur during holidays because of the accepted stance on drinking during the events. Do yourself a favor and designate a driver or call a cab. And, at no point during these celebrations, should minors be allowed to drink. I have seen an increase in teen and early twenty something awareness to drinking and driving, but the devastating effects of the death of teen to a family and a community are not worth the risk.

What to do if you suspect a person is drinking and driving? First of all, be practical and be nice! Alcohol lowers inhibitions and the typically nice easy going person can become belligerent quickly. Ask for their keys, offer a place to stay, drive them home, and call a cab. Do whatever it takes to keep them from being a danger to themselves or others. Don’t just offer them a cup of coffee because the caffeine in the coffee will not help their impairments, it just speeds up their system. If you are on the roadways and you notice a driver whom you suspect may be under the influence, dial 911. When calling, make certain you have the make, model, and color of the vehicle along with the license plate number and a point of reference such as the road and cross street.

Please have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, but play it safe for 2010!