GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year. As COVID-19 safety regulations permit, community members gather to enjoy the change in scenery, cold weather, hot chocolate and warm fires. Under normal circumstances, the season is also typically greeted with an increased use of alcohol or other substances, which can lead to negative consequences such as arrests for Driving under the Influence (DUI) or impaired driving.
December is designated as “Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month” — a national campaign designed to bring awareness to these problems, and to provide education and information regarding prevention.
Alcohol Impaired Driving
The amount of alcohol consumed by a person can be detected using either a breathalyzer devise, or a blood test. Alcohol levels are measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). A BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, increases the chances of a car crash exponentially. Laws in the United States determine that it is illegal to operate a vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher. However here in Germany, the laws are slightly different. It is illegal to operate a vehicle in Germany with a BAC of .05 or higher.
Moreover, years of research has determined that even the smallest amounts of alcohol reduces the functionality of our brain. An intoxicated person will become impaired processing information, making decisions and coordinating muscle movement. These are all skills needed to operate a vehicle safely. While it is important to know the laws, it is equally important to know that any of use of alcohol may impair driving.
The table below, from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), explains how alcohol can cause driving impairments, even in small quantities.
Besides alcohol, many other substances can cause impaired driving. These substances include prescription drugs, illegal drugs and even some over-the-counter medications. Like alcohol, use of marijuana and other drugs can impair a person’s driving by slowing judgement, muscle coordination and reaction time. The use of cocaine and methamphetamines can cause people to drive recklessly and more aggressively. Some over-the-counter medication and prescribed medications can have side effects, such as extreme drowsiness or dizziness. It is always important to consult your doctor about the side effects of medications you are taking, and always follow the warning labels before driving.
Be Responsible: Have a Plan
Here are some tips to keep yourself and others safe, both this holiday season and year-round:
- If you are drinking or using impairing drugs, do not drive for any reason. Instead rely on a different, sober form of transportation.
- If someone you know has been drinking or using drugs, do not let that person get behind the wheel. Take their keys and help them find a sober ride home.
- Always wear your seat belt, as it is the best defense against impaired drivers.
- If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact local law enforcement. Doing so could save someone’s life.
Editor's Note: Author Carly-Jayne Waters is the program manager for USAG Bavaria's Army Substance Abuse Program.