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Alcohol-related Traffic Deaths Jump on New Year’s Eve

niaaa-graph-updatedROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 22–(ENEWSPF)–Some New Year’s predictions are, tragically, very reliable. For example, significantly more people are likely to die in alcohol-related traffic crashes on New Year’s Eve than on other mid-week winter evenings.

Just look at the numbers. A recent analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics shows that, by the time our country finished ringing in the year 2004 (the last year for which data are available), 90 people had died in alcohol-related traffic crashes in the 12-hour span between 6:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and 5:59 a.m. the next morning. Four weeks later, on the same night of the week, the death toll dropped dramatically to 20.

Myths Persist

Even though many of us are aware of the higher rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities on New Year’s Eve, myths about drinking and driving persist—myths that, for some, can prove fatal. Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) on how alcohol affects our brains and bodies provide important information that challenges these commonly-held—but incorrect—beliefs. These myths are related to how quickly alcohol affects the body and how long these effects can last.

Sobering Up — Myths and Facts

Myth: You can drive as long as you are not slurring words or acting erratically.

Fact: The skills and coordination needed for driving are compromised long before the obvious signs of intoxication are visible. In addition, the sedative effects of alcohol, combined with the late night hours, place you at much greater risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.

Myth: Drink coffee. Caffeine will sober you up.

Fact: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but it doesn't counteract the effect of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize (break down) alcohol and even more time to return to normal. There are no quick cures — only time will help.

Alcohol’s Effects Begin Quickly

Many New Year’s revelers get into trouble because they generally do not recognize that critical driving-related skills and decision-making abilities are diminshed long before they begin to show the obvious physical signs of intoxication.

Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant and if you drink you may temporarily feel upbeat and excited. But don’t be fooled. Inhibitions and judgment are soon affected, increasing the chance of making reckless decisions behind the wheel. As more alcohol is consumed, fine motor skills and reaction time begin to suffer and behavior becomes poorly controlled and sometimes aggressive, compromising driving abilities even further. Continued drinking can lead to the slurred speech and loss of coordination and balance that we typically associate with being “drunk.” At higher levels alcohol acts as a depressant, which causes people to become sleepy and sometimes pass out.

SOURCE National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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