Emory Report

December 7, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 14


Eat, drink and be merry, but don't let alcohol spoil holiday fun

Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol continues to be a problem in America, and Georgia is no different. In 1997 more than 19,700 of the state's 301,765 motor vehicle crashes were due to impaired driving, resulting in 9,309 injuries and 609 fatalities, or 38.4 percent of all motor vehicle deaths from collisions. Although this number is lower than the national average of 45 percent, it is disturbing that this problem continues to exist despite increased public awareness, stronger laws and more stringent enforcement.

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) has attacked the DUI problem in a number of ways, including:

  • supplementing law enforcement budgets to allow for additional personnel dedicated to DUI enforcement;
  • launching statewide public information and education programs;
  • creating impaired-driving countermeasures programs focused on specific populations;
  • providing supplemental training for prosecutors and judges; and
  • conducting research to determine public knowledge and understanding of DUI laws.

While the GOHS has seen an improvement in the numbers over the years, powerful influences prevent the eradication of the problem entirely. The beverage industry has "awards" and "prize" programs that encourage the increased use of alcohol and easy access to controlled substances. However, the beverage industry has also lent strong support to server training, "responsible" consumption and other programs designed to deter impaired driving. Our "top-down" programs at GOHS have been effective as well. But the most effective countermeasures against impaired driving must come at the grassroots level.

During the holidays GOHS would like everyone to remember that the designated driver program works. If you are hosting a party in your home where alcoholic beverages will be served, do not let guests drive home drunk. Support designated drivers by always serving food with alcoholic beverages and having plenty of soft drinks for designated drivers. Keep a wary eye out for friends with a history of overindulgence, and do not let them drive. Remember, it takes about 12 hours for alcohol to be processed through the body. If necessary, plan on letting someone stay overnight.

Aside from looking out for others (Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk), look out for yourself. Second liability means that if you provide alcohol or some controlled substance to your guests and then allow them to leave while impaired, you can be sued by any party who is injured as a result of your guest's involvement in a vehicular crash. Bar owners and bartenders are also subject to secondary liability. Insist on a designated driver!

If you go out and know in advance that you will be drinking, take along a nondrinking friend to act as the designated driver. In many instances, local and gathering places honor the designated driver program by furnishing buttons or badges identifying that individual and by providing them with free soft drinks.

The Georgia Dome and Turner Field both have a designated driver booth. So, stop by and pick up some information, and we will furnish you with a designated driver badge and a T-shirt while supplies last.

GOHS has extended the designated driver concept to Georgia's lakes and waterways with a program called the "designated skipper" program. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has stepped up enforcement of Georgia's "boating under the influence" laws. Get a designated skipper for your water sports!

From GOHS, we extend seasons greetings for 1998, and we hope you have safe and happy holidays. Enjoy your parties, but don't let alcohol be your last taste of life.

Richard Carter is senior planner and manager of the Impaired Driving Countermeasures Program in the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Wellness is sponsored by Office of Health Promotion of the Rollins School of Public Health. To preregister or for information about programming call 404-2348-1460 or visit our web site at <http://www.sph.emory.edu/ WELLNESS/>.

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