The Cabinet for Health and Family Services encourages you to “think before you drink” this holiday season.
The holiday season is a wonderful time to gather as families, renew old friendships, catch up on the latest news, attend gatherings and celebrate. “Our wish for all of you is that your holiday is happy and safe. In addition to fun activities, the holiday season also can be a time of tragic highway accidents, injuries and fatalities and many of these incidents begin with an innocent partaking of the spirits of the season,” said Steve Shannon, Director of the state’s Division for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The roadways can be dangerous anytime, but particularly during holidays. For example, there were 10 fatalities on Kentucky highways this Thanksgiving according to the Kentucky State Police. There have been 862 fatalities on Kentucky highways so far during 2004. That is an increase in total fatalities for each of the past four years. The ages of drivers in fatal collisions for 2003 ranged from 13 to 75+, making no portion of our population immune to these terrible tragedies.
According to the National Safety Council, in Kentucky during 2003, there were 7,842 collisions which involved drugs or alcohol, 229 of them fatal with a total fatality count of 254 persons. In addition to the loss of lives, the estimated economic impact of Kentucky traffic collisions in 2003 was $2.1-6 billion.
Substance use and abuse is an issue which knows no demographic boundaries and can cause tragedy, pain, and grief in families of all races, ethnic groups, economic standing, educational level and age. Driving under the influence (DUI) is just one manifestation of the impact that substance use can have. Kentucky law states that a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 indicates illegal intoxication, although it is possible to be arrested for DUI with a lower BAC.
“Consequently, those few innocent drinks consumed at the office party, the company holiday celebration, the family gathering, or other holiday celebrations may be enough to negatively impact the holidays in a major manner,” said Shannon.
Young drivers are no exception to the heartbreak which often results from drinking and driving. In 2002, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for people ages 15-20 based on data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2003, 3,657 drivers in this age group were involved in fatal crashes and 31 percent of the drivers killed had been drinking with 25 percent of them registering a BAC of .08 or higher.
Driving a car, for most of us, becomes as commonplace and second nature as activities like tying our shoes. After we learn how to do it, we often don’t give it much though. We engage in activities which often compete for our attention while behind the wheel of a vehicle such as eating, putting on make-up, drinking coffee, talking on the phone, adjusting our stereo, mediating an argument between the kids and carrying on a conversation with other passengers. All of these activities are enough to disrupt our concentration and decrease our ability to react to emergency situations. Add to that mix, the effects of alcohol – impaired judgment, decreased peripheral vision, inability to multi-task, and slowed reactions – and it’s a recipe for potential disaster.
“So, as we enjoy the holiday season for 2004, take a look at alternative activities such as non-alcoholic drinks and alcohol-free celebrating. Plan a party around board games, card games, movies, and encourage those attending to refrain from drinking before driving,” said Shannon. “If your activity does include alcohol, ensure that you have made alternative arrangements for the trip home – a designated driver, a taxi, or even an overnight stay which doesn’t require leaving the celebration site. We want everyone to have a happy holiday season – so please think before you drink.”
For more information on alcohol and drug usage as well as highway statistics visit www.dui.com, www.nhtsa.dot.gov, www.nida.nih.gov, http://mhmr.chs.ky.gov or call the Division for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at (502) 564-2880.