Mike Brown is the Chief of the Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a former Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. In his current position, he is responsible for coordinating the United State’s policy and programs concerning impaired driving prevention activities and strategies to improve occupant protection. During this episode we discuss why December is an important month to remind everyone to not drink and drive and what is being done to prevent impaired driving across the country.
In many parts of the world, the month of December is a time to celebrate the holiday season; between Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve, it is a virtual cornucopia of festivities. For some people, these festivities mean celebrating with family and friends, which at times includes alcohol—and that is when it can get deadly.
December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
On November 29th, President Obama declared December 2013 to be National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. NHTSA will be extremely active in December working with its partners everywhere, promoting the messages of ‘Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving’ and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.’
In the United States, 760 people lost their lives from impaired driving during December of 2011, with a total of 4,169 in the December months from 2007 to 2011. While impaired driving happens all year ‘round, the holiday season is a particularly dangerous time. Because of these devastating facts, law enforcement will be out in force cracking down on impaired drivers from December 17, 2013 through January 1, 2014.
Impaired Driving from Other Drugs
Alcohol is not the only drug that causes impaired driving. Other drugs are playing an increasingly deadly role. From research done by NHTSA, of the drivers tested for alcohol and other drugs, nearly 16% were positive for a drug other than alcohol. This is not to say that everyone was using an illegal drug. Prescription and over-the-counter medications were found as well. It is essential to remember that impaired driving can also occur from medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. That is why we must understand how any medication may impact the person taking it or interact with other medication being taken.
Make Plans Beforehand
Even one drink can impair someone’s judgment and increase the risk of getting arrested for impaired driving, or worse, killing someone. That is why it is important to make plans before heading out for the evening. Easy plans include:
- Designating a sober driver before the party begins
- Planning to call a taxi or using public transportation
- Making plans to stay where you are drinking
If hosting a party, stop serving alcohol as the evening wears on, and be responsible—friends don’t let friends drive after drinking.
One option that more communities are developing is free cab rides home. Called SoberRide in the Washington, DC area, the program is typically funded through sponsors and donations, and works with local cab companies to provide impaired adults (over the age of 21) cab rides home. In many locations the ride is free. WRAP (Washington Regional Alcohol Program) organizes the DC SoberRide program. To see a list of programs nationwide, click here.
Celebrate the Holiday Season Safely
It is the Holiday Season, a time to celebrate with family and friends. It is not a time to stop thinking. It is not a time to drink and drive. Take the time to plan ahead. Decide where to go with family or friends. Choose which celebrations to attend. Then make plans on how to get home safely. It is the Holiday Season—a time to make plans to be safe, for one and all.
What plans have you made for a safe holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- NHTSA Traffic Safety Marketing
- Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) – 2013 National Drug Control Strategy
- Sober Rides – National Listing
- Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP)
- 2011 Impaired Driving Numbers
- 2012 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview
- 2013 NHTSA Holiday Campaign Fact Sheet
- National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers (2007)
- Presidential Proclamation – December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
- Highway to Safety Podcast—Episode 4: Drugged Driving
December 2-6, 2013 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week
Jacob (Jake) Nelson is an epidemiologist and the Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research for the Automobile Association of America (AAA). Because of his background, Jake sees traffic safety in a different light from traditional traffic safety professionals. In terms of Senior Driving, he analyzes the data and recognizes that when compared to other age groups, there is a greater percentage of seniors dying in fatal crashes. However, it is usually because of their inability to recover from injuries received in a crash, not because of their driving abilities. Thus, while senior drivers are typically safe drivers, their reaction time and judgment are affected by the aging process. So what is one to do? Just stop driving at a certain age? The short answer to that question according to Jake, and based on the research, is an emphatic No. Chronological age is not a good indication of safe—or unsafe—driving. However, as we grow older issues can arise. Understanding and addressing those issues is the critical consideration for any senior driver. Ultimately, that makes it safer for the senior driver and everyone else on the road.
Making Plans Beforehand
It is important for senior drivers and their family members to recognize that in time they could become a danger on the road. Hanging up the keys for good can be one of the hardest decisions for any senior. It can also be one of the hardest conversations for family members to have with a parent or grandparent. How can it be made easier? By planning ahead. In this episode Jake discusses how each family should have a conversation on what to do IF a senior driver becomes a danger to others on the road. The first step is to have the conversation before it is an issue, while the senior driver is still a safe driver. Planning ahead for what to do if the situations arises demonstrates that you care for the person, while allowing for a free flowing discussion on how to remedy a future potentially dangerous situation. The senior driver is an active participant in the decision-making process.
A Self-Evaluation Tool for Senior Drivers
AAA’s on-line tool, “Roadwise Review” is a useful tool to help senior drivers evaluate their driving skills.. It’s free, it can be done by anyone, and it takes only about 30-45 minutes to complete. In making its determination, the evaluation looks at eight important considerations, including:
- Visual Acuity
- Memory, and
- Mental Processing Speed.
After completing it, the person evaluated receives a confidential report. The report provides feedback on each area using three levels: Severe, Moderate or None. Where appropriate, suggestions on ways to improve driving abilities are also provided. Taking this evaluation annually can help show clear changes in ability.
Medication and Senior Drivers
As we age, we are likely to take medication for a variety of ailments. In a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey of people 55 years and older, 18% of the people surveyed indicated that they had received a warning from a doctor or nurse about the medication they were using and how it could impact their driving abilities; only 28% even recognized it as a possibility. However, the fact that that some senior drivers are driving impaired from medication is a significant and growing concern. Jake discusses another useful tool AAA developed that can help educate you on how medications may affect your driving. Called “Roadwise RX,” it is a free online tool to list medications you take and then receive a report on how that drug or drugs may impair you. It also includes possible interactions between medications.
Know the Useful Car Features
Jake also points out that having the “right” car could make a difference in being a safe driver. While there is no “best” car for senior drivers because of the wide variety of individual physical challenges, there may be important features that should be considered when choosing a car. It is important to know of any personal limitations, and then look for features that help address these limitations. To learn about any features that may be helpful, check out Smart Features for Older Drivers. It is another useful free web-based tool to find out what features may be useful depending on your situation. The list developed can be printed and then taken with you when looking for a car.
An Overview of Senior Driving Issues
Before my conversation with Jake, I provide an overview of some Senior Driving issues, along with a few questions a senior driver or loved one might ask. With the number of older drivers growing, this will be an increasing challenge for families everywhere. This podcast provides great information for families and senior drivers on what is needed to continue driving long into retirement, allowing older drivers to have the freedom to go where they want, visit who they wish, and take on new adventures.
- Older Driver Safety Awareness Week
- Roadwise Review
- Roadwise RX
- Senior Driving AAA
- Smart Features for Older Drivers
- Driving Safety While Aging Gracefully – NHTSA Publication
- Traffic Safety Guy Blog: Senior Drivers and Medication—Are You Driving Impaired?
- Traffic Safety Guy Blog: Senior Drivers: To Drive or Not to Drive