It goes without saying that driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious issue with far-reaching social consequences. As one of the leading personal injury law firms serving the Houston, TX region, we have dealt with numerous people whose lives were changed forever due to the irresponsible behavior of drunk drivers.
No matter how much effort society puts into discouraging people from getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, too many of us do exactly that, sometimes with tragic results. Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances that you become a victim (or perpetrator) of a drunk driving incident.
What the Stats Say
Before we go into the process of not becoming another drunk driving statistic, let’s take a brief look at those statistics.
- Across the U.S., 10,265 people died in alcohol-related vehicular accidents in the year 2015. 1,323 of these deaths happened in Texas.1
- In the same year, 38% of all deaths in Texas due to traffic accidents were traced to alcohol use. Only two states (Connecticut & Rhode Island) had a higher percentage of alcohol-related traffic deaths.2
How Alcohol Affects Driving Ability
Consuming alcohol produces a variety of neurocognitive effects, depending on the amount imbibed and the constitution of the drinker. Small amounts of alcohol typically result in relaxation and a mild feeling of warmth. The drinker may also feel diminished social inhibitions. These effects largely account for alcohol’s popularity as a “social lubricant.”
Further consumption of alcohol induces more dramatic effects. Physical coordination begins to decline. Muscle control starts to diminish as well. The individual’s awareness of their immediate surroundings tends to be reduced; they may not notice stimuli that would otherwise be readily apparent.
Overall, the individual’s judgment becomes significantly lessened and, usually, they are not aware of the full extent of this impairment. They feel good—and often they fool themselves into thinking that they’re in good enough condition to get behind the wheel of their car.
It’s important to understand that these effects can make themselves felt even if the individual’s blood alcohol level is below the legal limit of 0.08%. That’s why it’s a good idea to avoid driving if you feel you could be impaired.
The relatively mild level of intoxication that develops after just a few drinks may be acceptable under the law, but drivers in this condition really aren’t at 100% functionality, and that could make the difference between a “close call” and a life-changing accident.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2,017 people died in the year 2016 in alcohol-related vehicle accidents in which the driver had a detectable BAC that was under the 0.08% limit.3
If the individual’s blood alcohol level exceeds 0.08%, alcohol impairment becomes more pronounced. The ability to concentrate and react to situational events rapidly deteriorate. It becomes increasingly difficult to process and respond appropriately to sensory stimuli, such as the presence of other cars on the road. Drivers are no longer capable of applying the brakes as quickly as they would when sober, and may “drift” out of their lanes without realizing it. Drivers in this condition pose a clear and present danger to themselves and others.
What to Do if You or an Acquaintance Is Drunk
It should be clear by now that alcohol diminishes one’s driving skills, even at BAC levels under the legal limit. If you plan on being out in public consuming alcohol, you must have a backup plan for getting home should you end up drinking too much.
How do you know if your BAC is above the limit? Don’t take any chances—when in doubt, assume the worst. One common tactic is to appoint someone to act as a designated driver for you. Alternatively, you can take a cab or an Uber/Lyft ridesharing service to get home; this means you’ll have to retrieve your vehicle later, so make sure that you have it parked in a location where this will be permissible.
If you are a non-drinking member of a group, you should consider acting as a designated driver yourself. Bear in mind that large groups of people probably need more than one designated driver.
Finally, do what you can to discourage inebriated friends from getting in the driver’s seat; don’t accept their reassurances that they “feel fine” or “drive better when drunk.” As we have noted, drunk people simply can’t assess their physical state accurately.
The best approach tends to be a non-confrontational one, as drunk people—even those who are normally placid in temperament—can become belligerent when they feel provoked. Try not to be aggressive about it; just calmly ask them to hand over their keys. Often a flippant, joking approach works well.
How to Spot a Drunk Driver
Keeping as far away from drunk drivers as reasonably possible will minimize your chances of becoming a causality of this social scourge. How can you do this? We’ve already discussed the dangers of getting in an automobile with an inebriated driver. Now we’ll turn our attention to the appropriate response when you encounter another vehicle on the road that may be operated by a driver under the influence.
For the most part, it’s impossible to be certain that drivers are driving their vehicles while drunk. Occasionally, the signs are obvious—more than a few drivers have been caught openly guzzling from a can of beer while behind the wheel. Barring “smoking gun” evidence like that, however, you need to make reasonable guesses and react accordingly.
The characteristic sign of drunk driving is a vehicle that is swerving or drifting across the lanes in an erratic fashion. Even so, a driver behaving in this fashion isn’t necessarily drunk. In our era of cell phones and “distracted driving,” it’s an unfortunate truth that many of us keep taking our eyes off the road for extended periods of time.
Here are a number of other possible signs that a drunk driver is on the road:
- Driving very slowly. Some drunk drivers, realizing that they’re impaired, overcompensate by driving significantly under the speed limit. This is still dangerous, however—and illegal.
- Driving between lanes. They don’t realize that they’re straddling two lanes.
- Excessively wide turns. Drunk drivers have a habit of turning in a wide radius.
- Excessive braking. Drivers under the influence of alcohol often keep overreacting to perceived dangers on the road, leading to a constant use of the brakes that isn’t justified by actual road conditions.
- Stopping in the road. They simply hit the brakes and come to a stop for no apparent reason.
- No headlights at night. Again, not necessarily a positive indicator of inebriation—a lot of us have occasionally forgotten to turn on the lights—but drunk drivers are more likely to neglect this basic safety feature.
What to Do if You See an Impaired Driver
So, you strongly suspect that another driver on the road is under the influence of drugs or alcohol—now what? It’s not your job to stop or detain the vehicle—and, in fact, that would be extremely dangerous—but what you can do is inform authorities by calling 911. You should be able to provide any relevant information about the vehicle, including its current location, the direction it is traveling in, a description of the vehicle (color, make, model, etc.), and its license plate.
Be sure to keep a safe distance from the other vehicle at all times, as drunk drivers can stop or swerve without warning. You should also avoid becoming distracted from your responsibility to observe proper driving practices. This includes making sure that you do not disobey speed limits, stop lights, or traffic signals to follow the vehicle. Don’t play hero.
Victimized by a Drunk Driver? Call Our Houston, TX Auto Accident Attorneys
If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you need experienced legal help so you can get properly compensated. You should contact our Houston-based personal injury lawyers at your earliest opportunity. We’re here 24/7 to take your call at 713-364-0723. For car accident lawyers you can depend on, you can always turn to Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris.