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Here's to a Safe -- and Sober -- Holiday

Drunk drivers kill 17,000 Americans every year, experts say

TUESDAY, Dec. 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- For Nadine Milford of Albuquerque, N.M., and her family, there's always a grim edge to the sparkle of the holiday season.

Every Christmas Eve they visit a local cemetery and lay flowers on four graves -- those of her 31-year-old daughter, Melanie Cravens, and three young granddaughters.

All four were killed on Christmas Eve in 1992 when a drunk driver headed the wrong way on Albuquerque's Interstate 40 barreled head-on into their car. Craven's husband, Paul, was driving and barely survived the collision.

"I had a sign made up a few years ago: 'It took a family of four to stop a drunk. Is that what it will take for you?' " said Milford, who hopes her story will deter people from driving while drunk.

Harold Watson, a spokesman for the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, noted, "The scary thing is, three out of every 10 people in America face being involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetimes. That ought to wake people up."

The commission offers other sobering statistics: Impaired driving is one of America's deadliest problems all year around. In 2003, more than 17,000 people died in alcohol-related highway crashes, and hundreds of thousands more were injured. And every 30 minutes, someone in the United States is killed in an alcohol-related crash.

There is some encouraging news, however.

Legislators and law enforcement officials are becoming even less tolerant of impaired driving. According to the commission, 2004 marked the first year that 0.08 blood alcohol content laws have been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

What can you do to ensure a safer holiday season? Plenty, say experts, who offer these tips:

  • If you drink, don't drive.
  • If you're heading to a party, make sure you have a designated driver. If not, arrange to stay overnight or take a cab home.
  • If you're hosting a party, be sure your guests have a way home or can stay overnight. Also, make sure there's plenty of food available, especially high-protein food. And have nonalcoholic beverages for designated drivers.
  • Stop serving alcohol 90 minutes before the party ends.
  • If you're on the road, be on the lookout for drunk or drugged drivers. Signs include speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, or driving on the shoulder of the road. If you see such a driver, don't try to pass them; call 911 on your cell phone to report them to the police.

Watson also recommends that party hosts make one person the designated bartender, and have him or her serve the drinks all night.

"Oftentimes, the more someone drinks, the heavier they will pour," he said. "You end up with people getting much drunker than they may have intended."

As for Milford, she has become a standard-bearer for tougher drunk driving laws. She's chairwoman of New Mexico's Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, and her efforts helped spur the state to lower its legal level of intoxication from 0.10 to 0.08 and close all of its drive-up liquor windows.

But the loss of her daughter and three granddaughters 12 years ago still haunts her holiday season.

"Now on Christmas Eve, we all gather together. When 9:30 or 10 comes, we just go into different parts of the house. We all are grieving, in our own way. Every Christmas Eve is difficult."

More information

For more on preventing drunk driving, visit the Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

SOURCES: Nadine Milford, Albuquerque, N.M.; Harold Watson, spokesman, National Commission Against Drunk Driving, Silver Spring, Md.; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Consumer News