In the video for a song cheesy enough to put everything else in the ‘80s to shame, Don’t Drive Drunk follows a young man’s gradual descent into inebriation from a friend’s party to a discotheque. (Since this fellow doesn’t even stop drinking to drive from one place to the next, this is a continuous descent.) In spite of his friends’ urgings to take it easy, he downs enough alcohol that “if you lit a smoke, he’d explode.” When it comes time for him to drive home, his friends follow him out to his car, begging him to let someone else drive. However, the alcohol seems to have made him irascible; and it isn’t until Stevie Wonder himself steps out to add his own warning to the chorus that he relents.
Don’t Drive Drunk was written in 1984. Surely, by now, everyone who understands speech has heard about the dangers of drinking and driving nearly as often as they have heard their own name. However, people who behave like the protagonist of cheesy ‘80s public service announcement are far from extinct. Although drinking and driving has been on the decline for decades, 30% of fatal car accidents in 2011 were drunk driving accidents. (Even in the relatively sober Utah, drunkenness contributes to some 20% of auto accidents.)
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So why is drunk driving still such a problem in the U.S.?
1. Impaired Judgment
For the same reason that drunk driving is a bad idea, people are terrible at gauging whether or not they are too drunk to drive: a 2010 study by Professor Peter Snyder at Brown University found that the feeling of being drunk is one of the first symptoms of drunkenness to “recover”—that is, a sense of incapacitation wears off before incapacitation does. Among the other poor decisions people may make while under the influence is the decision to drive drunk in the first place.
2. Lack of Options
Another disadvantage of going out to drink is that you run the risk of being without a ride. Unlike the man in the Don’t Drive Drunk video, most people lack a backup plan for those times when driving home is not an option. Many people choose just to take their chances, believing that the odds of an accident are low if they are extra careful. As the aforementioned data suggests, however, feeling intoxicated is a sure sign that the time has passed to be careful. Asking for a ride may put someone out temporarily, but at least does not risk injury.
3. Ignorance of the Risks
While most people are aware that drinking and driving is generically “wrong,” somewhat fewer people realize that nearly 10,000 people die each year in drunk driving accidents. This means that people are killed by drunk drivers more often than the small hand on a clock’s face moves to the next number. A person is injured in a drunk driving accident every 90 seconds; and a third of drunk driving offenses are repeat offenses.
Obviously, for that third of drunken drives that are repeat offenses, there is less excuse for risky behavior. However, given the dangers associated with drunk driving in any context, even one offense is too much.
As clichéd as it is, the trope of teenagers storming out of the house and driving away recklessly (as did the man in the ’80s video) is not an uncommon scenario: between 25% and 40% of drunk driving occurs because the driver was wound up, trying to prolong a state of mind reached while under the influence, or otherwise internally distracted. Driving distraught by itself is dangerous because it prevents the driver from focusing all their attention on the road; driving drunk and distraught is an even greater threat.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 33% of drunk driving incidents stemmed from social-environmental factors. When people are subjected to trying social circumstances or habitually use alcohol to slacken their inhibitions, they are more likely to drink more than they should without a designated driver. For many, the risks of a drunk driving accident seem remote compared to the risk of embarrassment at a social event. In addition, the stigma on drinking and driving occasionally prevents people from admitting that they shouldn’t be driving in the first place.
Regardless of the excuse given, drunk drivers should be prepared to face the consequences of their decisions…and to render recompense when those consequences are not restricted to themselves. Unlike distractions that arise without warning like a demanding child, inebriation is entirely preventable.
However, appealing to insurance companies whose allegiance is technically to the welfare of the business, and not to the victim or even to the conscience of the drunk driver can be discouraging. Applications must be filled out within a certain window of time in a certain way, or they may be denied on technicalities. Consulting with a personal injury attorney is one way to avoid losing much-needed and well-deserved help in the wake of a serious injury.
To speak to a savvy personal injury attorney about a drunk driving accident, call Good Guys Injury Law free of charge at (801) 506-0800 or request a free booklet on personal injury in Utah at UtahAccidentBooks.com.
Image courtesy of Mike Klein