Drunk driving

Although the number of deaths attributed to drunk driving has shown a slightdecrease over the past few years, alcohol impairment continues to be a majorfactor in motor vehicle crashes. In 1996, 34% of the drivers of passenger vehicles and 41% of the motorcyclists who died in highway accidents had blood alcohol levels of 0.10% or above, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (Although many factors affect blood alcohol levels, on average a170-pound man would reach a blood alcohol level of 0.10 by having four or five drinks in one hour, and 137-pound woman having three drinks in the same period.) However, alcohol has been observed to affect driving ability and the likelihood of an accident at blood alcohol levels as low as 0.02%. And the probability of a crash begins to increase significantly at a blood alcohol levelof 0.05 and rises sharply at 0.08 and above.

Among teenagers, the rates of drinking and driving may actually be rising (after several years of showing a decline). According to surveys of high schoolstudents conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, 31.2% of theseniors surveyed reported driving after drinking in 1984, compared to 15% in1995. But in 1997, 18.3% of seniors reported driving after drinking.

Because the extent of impairment after drinking alcohol varies from person toperson, depending on body weight, gender, mood, whether the drinker is taking any prescription drugs, and on other factors, the most reliable maxim for avoiding an alcohol-related motor-vehicle injury remains: if you drink, don'tdrive. Even the best driver can become sufficiently impaired by alcohol to injure or kill someone on the highway.

Experts advise that you offer a variety of beverages (some of them nonalcoholic) if you decide to serve alcohol at a party you are hosting. It is also advisable to serve food, even if it's only light snacks because food helps to helps offset (but not eliminate) the effects of alcohol. If a guest ends up drinking too much, common sense says that you should find someone to drive thatperson home, or offer to let him or her spend the night in your home. And itis understandably better to risk an argument by taking away the keys if an alcohol-impaired guest insists on driving home.

The same rules apply if you are attending someone else's party. And because not all hosts will play by these rules, authorities are insistent that you protect yourself and your passengers from drunk drivers in other cars by alwayswearing seat belts.

Safe-driving organizations point out that there are steps you can take to reduce the danger of encountering drunk drivers on the highways. For example, ifyour state does not prohibit drivers from consuming alcoholic beverages while operating a motor vehicle, you can write to your legislators asking that they propose an amendment to your state's law. Some states have lowered the legal blood alcohol content to 0.08% (from 0.10%); you can encourage legislatorsin your state to do the same if they have not already done so.

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