Last updated: May 29, 2023
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined that more people die from drunk driving crashes during July than any other month. It turns out that celebrating Independence Day is the cause of the spike in numbers.
Whether your family is attending a large family gathering or a huge extravaganza put on by your city or town, enjoying the day with family and friends usually starts long before the fireworks display. Moreover, the odds are that there will be alcohol available for any who care to imbibe. If they fail to exercise restraint—which can be hard to do on a hot summer day—by the time the fireworks end, they are far too intoxicated to get behind the wheel and head home.
Still, everyone knows people do. Moreover, it’s a well-known fact that drunk driving is an issue every day of the year. Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reported that of the 36,096 traffic fatalities that occurred in 2019, 10,142 of them were caused by a drunk driver.
The statistics rise sharply over the 4th of July holiday though. That’s partly due to the fact that lots of people choose to prolong the holiday by taking extra time off from work.
Campaigning for safety
The Traffic Safety Marketing (TSM) division of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is offering free downloadable materials to promote safe driving during the 4th of July holiday weekend.
They also list the following statistics on the webpage to help promote awareness:
- 515 people died between the hours of 6:00 pm on July 3rd and 5:59 am on July 8th, 2019. Nearly 40% (198) of those fatalities occurred because of an alcohol-impaired driver.
- During the above 2019 July 4th holiday period, 69% of those who died in alcohol-impaired crashes were in a crash involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.15.
That last statistic is very sobering when you realize that the cut-off of the legal BAC limit is .07%. That means that those involved in crashes with a 0.15 BAC were driving at over twice the legal BAC limit!
When someone is suspected of drunk driving, officers administer a breathalyzer test to make the determination. The breathalyzer measures the level of alcohol found in the person’s bloodstream and records the blood alcohol concentration.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. And, we know that a person’s liver is able to process about one standard drink per hour.
If you’re wondering how a “standard” drink looks compared to beverage orders, here’s a breakdown:
- 12 ounces of beer (one bottle) at 5% alcohol
- 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7% alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine containing 12% alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (one shot) at 40% alcohol
Not everyone’s body will metabolize the alcohol in the same way, however. Weight, gender, the pattern of drinking, and genetics all play a part in how quickly—or slowly—the body processes the alcohol consumed.
How BAC levels affect the body
In addition to putting yourself and others in harm’s way if you operate a motor vehicle over the legal limit of .o7% BAC, if someone’s level reaches a certain percentage, they can die.
Here’s the breakdown:
- 0.02% BAC: Even though this is the lowest level of intoxication, there is some measurable impact on the brain and body. It’s sometimes referred to as “feeling a buzz.” Feelings of relaxation, an altered mood, and a sense of warmth may include flushed skin. It may also cause poor judgment.
- 0.05% BAC: Behavior becomes exaggerated. People talk louder and gesture more. Vision may become blurry due to the loss of small muscle control. Judgment is impaired and coordination reduced. Tracking objects visually gets difficult and response time is reduced. Lower inhibitions cause unsafe behavior.
- 0.08% BAC: If someone registers 0.08% BAC, they’re over the legal limit. There is more loss of coordination, so balance, speech, and reaction times get worse. It’s hard to stand still or focus on an object. Reasoning, judgment, self-control, memory, and concentration are impaired.
- 0.10% BAC: Reaction time and control are further reduced, speech is slurred, thinking and reasoning are slower, and it gets hard to coordinate the arms and legs.
- 0.15% BAC: There is very little control over balance and voluntary muscles making walking and talking very difficult. Falling is probable. Vomiting may begin.
- 0.20-0.29% BAC: Confusion, stupor, feeling dazed, and disorientation are common at this stage of impairment. Standing and walking may require help. Sensations of pain change so if someone falls and hurts themselves they may not be aware of it. Nausea and vomiting are likely and the gag reflex is impaired. This could cause choking or aspirating on vomit. Blackouts begin at this stage as well.
- 0.30-0.39% BAC: Unconsciousness is possible and the potential for death increases. People are incapable of understanding at this BAC level. They also experience severe increases in heart rate, irregular breathing, and may lose control of their bladder.
- 0.40% BAC: If someone reaches this BAC, they are in danger of going into a coma or sudden death because the heart or breathing will suddenly stop.
An ounce of prevention
It’s been quite a year and many people haven’t been doing much celebrating—whether by choice or lockdown—so you may feel that the 4th of July is the perfect day to cut loose!
We get that—but exercise moderation, please.
Here are a few other safety tips to consider:
- Get a sober chauffeur lined up ahead of time if you plan to drink.
- Remember that sober drivers are those who haven’t had anything to drink—not the person who drank the least.
- If you’re hosting the party, make sure you offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages too.
- If you see a friend who is about to drive impaired, take the keys and make arrangements to get them home safely.
- Report impaired drivers that you see on the road. Pull over to make the call.
- Always wear a seat belt when in a motor vehicle.
We should all play our part in keeping the roads as safe as possible. Planning ahead, whether you will be drinking or not, is the best way to ensure a fun and safe 4th of July is had by all.
The only lights we want to see in the night sky are brilliant displays of fireworks, not the air ambulance making its way toward you and yours.