I’ve participated in the past in holiday campaigns to discourage drinking and driving. In the wake of so many tragedies in just this month alone, I would like to ask everyone to please consider all of the things they can do to stay safe and avoid making one more person suffer through the preventable death of a loved one.
Don’t drink and drive.
This is the thing that gets beaten over our heads by the media, but so few people actually know how much alcohol it takes to impair their ability to drive. The legal threshold for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is .08 percent, which for most people, is reached by consuming five drinks in a two-hour period. The average person metabolizes alcohol at a rate of .015 percent per hour, about one drink per hour, which means it would take more than five hours to get that alcohol out of your system once you’ve reached .08.
If you want to avoid a hangover, you don’t want to exceed .05 percent anyways, so best to stick to 2-3 alcoholic drinks while alternating with non-alcoholic beverages to make sure you stay properly hydrated. Try not to consume more servings of alcohol than the number of hours were you will be celebrating before you have to drive home, and stop drinking at least an hour before you have to drive.
You do not have to be at the legal DWI threshold for alcohol to affect your driving. If you feel “buzzed” or “tipsy,” your judgment and reaction time are not going to be working properly. If you consume more alcohol than you should, have someone else drive you home, or perhaps ask your hosts if you can sleep on their couch so you’ll be safe to drive in the morning. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get back to pick up your car the next morning. It’s better to be embarrassed or inconvenienced than to get arrested or end up in a car crash that kills you, your passengers, or someone else in another vehicle.
Don’t take drugs and drive. Legal or otherwise.
Marijuana is the most commonly abused [illegal] drug in the United States. I don’t really want to get into the legality of taking it, particularly since there are now several states that allow its use for medical and/or recreational purposes. I do want to point out that even small amounts of marijuana in your system can affect your driving as much as alcohol; it is theorized that being high on pot produces an amount of impairment equivalent to a .10 percent BAC. That’s even higher than the DWI threshold of .08 percent BAC. And there is an additive effect when both alcohol and marijuana are in your system. If you have, say, two drinks of alcohol that would bring your BAC to .04 percent, smoking pot can impair your judgment as if your BAC was .14 percent. It doesn’t actually change your BAC level, but its effects are comparable to that level. And marijuana can stay in your system, affecting your brain for as long as 24 hours after you smoke it.
Of course, pot isn’t the only drug people might take. There’s harder stuff like cocaine that I just hope none of my readers are taking. If you’re making the already bad decision (sorry, judging you) to take these illegal drugs, please don’t make the worse decision to get behind the wheel of a car afterward.
But there are also plenty of legal drugs, both prescription and over the counter, that can affect your ability to drive. I have several prescriptions that I take only at bedtime because of their sedative effect. (You know, that warning about not driving or operating heavy machinery.) If I have a panic attack and I have to take one of my Ativan (lorazepam) pills, I know I cannot drive for at least six hours. This has led me to suffer crushing anxiety in public places when I’m out alone and have to drive myself home, but I’m not helping myself if I take a pill and get into an accident trying to get myself home. The same with prescription pain medication, which I try to avoid as much as possible because I hate how it makes me feel. Lortab (hydrocodone) makes my head feel swimmy and fuzzy for at least six hours after I take it, which means I don’t take it unless someone else is going to drive me wherever I need to go or I know I’m home for the night. For the record, Lortab is a narcotic, derived from the opium plant, just like heroin. If you are taking prescription pain meds, anti-anxiety meds, or even OTC remedies like cough medicine that carry a warning about not driving – don’t drive. Find yourself a designated driver, take public transportation, or call a cab. Especially if you plan on drinking alcohol, which is usually not recommended when taking any of these drugs, because alcohol can increase their impairing effects.
Don’t text and drive.
In New York State, it is illegal to text and drive. It’s one of those things where I can’t believe so many people are stupid enough (again, judging you) to do it that we need to have a law specifically banning it. You are 23 times more likely than the average driver to get into a car crash if you are texting while driving. Why? Because it takes your eyes off the road for a minimum of five seconds at a time. At 55 mph, five seconds means you’re driving the length of a football field without looking at the road. And if you’re actively typing a message to someone, you’re not only taking your eyes off the road longer, you’re diverting all of your attention to your phone, and none to keeping your car in the proper lane or being alert for traffic and roadway conditions. So much can happen in even less than a second on the road! Please, please, please don’t text and drive.
I confess there was one time (two years ago?) I was almost home and I heard the text message notification on my phone. By “almost home,” I mean I was in my residential development where the speed limit is 20 mph, and you rarely get up to that when taking the turns to get to our street. So as I was going between 10-15 mph before making the second to last turn home, I decided to pick up my phone and see what it said. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I think I may have justified it because it may have been someone asking me to turn around and meet them somewhere instead of actually going home. I don’t know for sure. Whatever the case, though, it wasn’t worth it. In the few seconds it took me to look, I was driving diagonally into the other lane on the street. We don’t have lines painted on the roadway, but I know I was not in my lane, and if there had been a car coming, there could have been an accident.
I never texted while driving again. I can’t imagine what would have happened while I was on a town road or, even worse, the interstate. And yet I see people texting while driving all the time. It frightens me. It’s like reading a book while driving. It’s absurd. And dangerous. If it’s so vitally important that you check your text messages while getting from point A to point B, pull off the side of the road first. Do not text while your car is in motion. For the most part, though, your texts can wait until you arrive at your destination. And if you have a passenger with you, that person can always read and reply for you. If you are a passenger, never let your driver text; offer to do it for them or to pull over so you can take the wheel instead. (Assuming you’re sober, of course.)
Depression is not the end.
Literally, as I sit here typing this, I am suffering from some pretty crushing depression. There has been so much tragedy lately, both locally and nationally, and it weighs heavily on me. Even with recent events notwithstanding, the winter holiday season tends to be very difficult for people like me who struggle with depression. Too many people have traumatic memories related to this time of the year, and others feel the weight of loneliness and isolation more when it seems like everyone else is coming together for happy celebrations. Contrary to popular belief, the national suicide rate is actually lowest in December, but that does not mean that people aren’t at risk.
I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in your depression. I know that doesn’t make it better, but realize that plenty of people understand exactly what you’re going through. We’ve heard depression tell us that it will never get any better, that we’ll never be happy again, that we’re alone, unworthy, unloved, useless… We also know it’s not true. It’s hard to be rational about that in the moment when depression is whispering those horrible things to you in the form of your own traitorous thoughts.
If you’re not in the care of a mental health professional, find one. I don’t know how I would function without my psychiatrist. If you’re not on medication, talk to your doctor about your options. Not everyone who is depressed needs medication, but many of us do because of the chemical imbalances in our brains. There is no shame in this. My psychiatrist regularly reminds me that his patients are often “less crazy” than the general population, because at least we admit we have issues and we are trying to do something about them. If you are taking medication and you’re still unbearably depressed, talk to your doctor about possible med changes. Sometimes you just need a slight increase in your dosage, and sometimes you need to consider a different drug. (I am not a medical doctor, and none of this should be construed as medical advice. I am just a fellow person with depression who has gone through some of these things already.)
If you are thinking of hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available anytime, 24/7. If you don’t feel you can talk about it, they have a chat option on their website. Call or open a chat before you do anything to hurt yourself. Call 911 if you have done something, like taking pills or cutting yourself. You can also call 911 if you’re having suicidal thoughts and can’t remember the hotline number. You may feel like no one would care if you are gone, but I promise you, people do care. People you don’t even know about. People who want you to live, who want you to get better. It will get better. The only way it won’t get better is if you succeed in taking your own life. Please. Live.
Be safe, everyone. No more preventable deaths.
Tags: alcohol, drugs, safety