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A MADD Toast
(Drunk Driving)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed in December 30-31, 2006 issue,
Reprinted in December 12-13, 2009 issue of The Mississauga News
under the feature: Health, Wellness & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

He is one of the most dangerous people around this holiday season. You are more likely to meet him between midnight and 3 a.m. His blood alcohol level is over the legal limit of 0.08 mm/L, and his choice of drink tends to be beer. He is most likely to be male, and to have been driving for less than seven years. His enjoyment of alcohol has been noticed by friends or even police. On many occasions, I have stood and listened to him explain to me exactly why it is not his fault without any acknowledgment of the carnage lying before him. As a provincial coroner, it is one of the most tragic investigations to conduct. There is little you can do to protect yourself when you do meet him, but a lot more can be done to avoid that meeting.

Drunk driving refers to the inability to safely navigate a motor vehicle due to the influence of alcohol. This includes boats, cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATV's. Alcohol effects differ between people depending on the type of drinks, food and genetic make-up. The only certainty is that no one is immune. Intoxication is best measured by a breathalyzer test which determines the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or blood alcohol level in a drunken-driving suspect. Judgment and inhibition are impaired when a person is intoxicated. Deciding on your own sobriety is like having the wolf count chickens.

In Canada alone, there are about 1400 tragic deaths on an annual basis due to accidents involving alcohol and drugs, particularly pain killers. Roughly 10 percent of all collisions involve alcohol. When alcohol is present, the severity and fatality rates skyrocket. Between midnight and 3 a.m., almost 80 percent of fatal collisions involve alcohol. Almost 40 percent of all crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is without boundaries. It affects princes and paupers alike.

MADD stands for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It is a volunteer organization founded in California, but very active in Canada. It is committed to stopping impaired driving and supporting the victims. Every death or severe injury results in dozens of affected friends and family. Tens of thousands of people are affected by the problem. MADD has advocated for changes in law and behavior. There has been some good news. In Ontario, changes to the driving system cut the fatality rate in half between 1988 and 2001. Graduated licensing, designated drivers and the ability to immediately suspend licenses are measures that have helped. More needs to be done. Zero tolerance to any alcohol level applies to all those with learning type licenses. It disappears when you obtain a G license. There is a peak in alcohol fatalities that corresponds to new G drivers. Extending the zero tolerance a few more years may help a lot. Drivers who blow over 0.05 at a spot check receive a 12-hour suspension without a permanent record. Driving is a privilege and not a right. Repeat offenders need to be identified and rigidly dealt with.

As you begin to celebrate the arrival of the New Year there are ways to hedge your bet. Any time that I drive after midnight I just assume that everyone around me is impaired and adopt a vigilant and defensive driving posture. If you are hosting a party, I would suggest having store-bought alcohol blow tests available for anyone who may doubt their sobriety. You can make a pleasant game out of it. Alternately, hire a designated driver to pick up or drop off guests. Refrain from the "open bar" concept. It is far better to have a sober bar host serving drinks. Low alcohol and "virgin" specialty drinks are sensible alternatives, particularly for those who do not wish to stick out. Serving coffee does not promote or speed up sobriety. Have a wonderfully safe and prosperous New Year, and let's not meet by accident!

Related resources:

MADD Holiday Safety Driving Tips. 'Tis the Season for Increased Drinking and Driving in the U.S. by Aurae Beidler.

Drunk Driving Statistics from Alcohol Alert.

Consequences of Drunk Driving from Learn-About-Alcoholism.com. Drunk Driving Statistics. Statistics Teenage Drunk Driving.

Breathalyzer from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

How Breathalyzers Work from HowStuffWorks.

Self-Test for Breath Alcohol from WebMD. "A breath alcohol test is an estimate of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The test measures the amount of alcohol in the air that you breathe out (exhale)."

TEN FACTS: What Canada's BAC Federal Legal Limit Means in Practical Terms from MADD.ca. "The current Criminal Code blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08% (80 mg. of alcohol per 100 ml of blood) allows individuals to drink excessive amounts of alcohol in a relatively short period of time and then drive, largely immune to criminal sanction."

Drunk driving (United States) from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Driving under the influence from Wikipedia. DUI: Driving Under the Influence. DWI: Driving While Intoxicated, Driving While Impaired.

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