The holidays are a time of celebration. Families and friends gather together for meals, gifts, and festive drinks. Champagne toasts to the New Year, warm rum toddies near the fireplace, and glasses of red wine on the table often go hand-in-hand with the holidays. At the end of the evening, when guests make their way home on dark icy roads, too much alcohol in the system can turn a night of celebration into tragedy. While everyone knows that drinking and driving is a dangerous act, many people do not realize how much even a little alcohol can affect the body and how long alcohol can remain in the system, causing enough reflex impairment to risk reckless driving. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported last year that between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 40 percent of accidents on the road involved drunk drivers. This was a 12 percent increase over the other weeks in December. With more people drinking near the holidays (including many inexperienced drinkers), people need to be aware of just how easily alcohol can affect their safe driving. In order to clear up some misconceptions about alcohol’s effect on the body, the NIAAA released information detailing the detrimental effects alcohol can have on a person’s driving capabilities after the holiday party.
Some people believe that “If I can control my coordination and feel in control, the alcohol isn’t affecting me too much.” This isn’t necessarily so. The NIAAA cautions that alcohol quickly begins its effects on the body and may last for hours. Alcohol often is affecting a person’s perception, coordination, and judgment before the person realizes it. A person may step into their car believing that they are completely competent to drive home. However, alcohol slows reaction time and this may just be long enough of a pause to prevent a driver from applying the brakes, swerving to miss an obstacle, or recovering from a small slide on ice or snow.
Some people have their few drinks in the beginning of the evening thinking that the alcohol’s dulling affects will wear off before they must drive home. Then, they may even try to sober up with a cup of coffee. Both of these actions are misconceptions on how alcohol works in the body. The effects of a few drinks early in the evening can last all the way through the next morning. Alcohol in the bloodstream can affect the brain for hours. The idea that caffeine can help lessen the effects of alcohol is false. Coffee will not help a person drive home more safely. The body must have time for the alcohol to exit the bloodstream.