December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month
DUI/DWI deaths are preventable
The month between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve tops the list of the deadliest times to be on the road due to impaired driving. Did you know that DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) accidents occur more frequently at the height of the holiday season because people are traveling and attending parties, and more drivers on the road are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Just over 30% of all car accident fatalities in New Mexico involve drunk drivers.
Impaired driving is a critical issue here in New Mexico. In 2020, 145 people died in alcohol-involved automobile fatalities. It’s crucial to recognize that these deaths in our state are a direct result of alcohol misuse and dependency.
Alcohol misuse has serious effects on both your physical and mental health. Binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women within a couple of hours) is linked to higher car crash injuries and death. Heavy drinking, defined as having more than 2 drinks per day for men and more than one drink per day for women, is a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption. It can lead to addiction and a long list of other health problems, including chronic disease. Heavy drinking is also associated with a wide range of other social problems, including alcohol dependence, domestic violence and family disruption. And, if your body is used to ongoing alcohol use, stopping suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms.
When it comes to driving after drinking alcohol, your ability to safely operate a vehicle is impaired. People who drink and drive risk heavy fines, higher insurance rates, loss of license, jail sentences, or—worse—a deadly accident. Driving under the influence isn’t just alcohol–any substance that causes intoxication is a risk factor for a DUI accident or offense. Mixing alcohol with other substances like opioids can be especially dangerous and cause you to feel dizzy or even lose consciousness.
Another major factor in fatal DUI crashes is teenage binge drinking. In the most recent New Mexico DWI report, the rate of alcohol-involved crashes with teen drivers increased three years in a row and is now the highest it’s been in at least a decade. One of the best strategies to prevent underage drinking and driving is by talking to the young people in your life about the risks of alcohol and driving while intoxicated. Try to bring this topic up regularly with your kids and listen to their questions with an open mind. Talk about safe choices this month especially, when older teens may be behind the wheel and attending holiday parties with friends. Helpful tips on how to talk with your kids ZeroProofNM – Talking With Your Kids About Alcohol or with SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You.” Campaign.
If you’re struggling with alcohol misuse or your mental health, there are comprehensive services available for treatment and recovery. The New Mexico Human Services Department, Behavioral Health Services Division (BHSD) offers numerous resources for substance misuse services, including alcohol treatment. Support with education, assessments, withdrawal/detoxification, outpatient and residential centers, counseling and more are available to anyone living in New Mexico who is in need. New Mexicans can also find resources for support groups, DUI offender programs and prevention through BHSD’s initiatives like The DWI Resource Center. The Center works to reduce the social and economic impact of DWI through awareness and education, as well as prevention programs and research. The Center also provides assistance to victims and serves as a central clearinghouse for information on DWI and victims’ rights.
The NM Office of Substance Abuse Prevention (OSAP) has identified several strategies that work to help reduce alcohol misuse and prevent DUI accidents. OSAP funds 40 different New Mexico underage and binge drinking prevention programs for youth and adults. Effective strategies include working with local schools and colleges to improve alcohol misuse policies, reducing retail availability and social access to alcohol products for minors and strengthening resiliency factors among youth and families.
While impaired driving and the lives lost to it are serious issues, it’s key to remember that DUI deaths are entirely preventable, and it begins with the choices we make. Prevention starts with each of us deciding to always be responsible drivers and have a plan to get home safely if we’re intoxicated. It’s important to remember the science behind alcohol intoxication as well, and that there are no shortcuts to sobering up before driving, like drinking coffee. Over the holidays, set clear boundaries and expectations with your children and other family members about making safe choices when attending holiday events. Planning to take a taxi, rideshare service or making arrangements for a designated driver can eliminate spontaneous decisions to drive under the influence.
We can bring attention to the problem of drunk and drugged driving in New Mexico without stigmatizing those who suffer from alcohol dependency disorders. Stigma leads to shame, embarrassment and discrimination, and we want to encourage people who are the most at risk of driving under the influence to get the help they need. Alcohol dependency can happen to anyone. Treatment is effective and recovery IS possible. If you recognize the signs of alcohol misuse in yourself, it’s ok to speak up and reach out for support. Explore the available resources for anyone seeking help for alcohol dependency on our Resources page.
- DWI Resource Center
- New Mexico Office of Substance Abuse Prevention (OSAP)
- Alcohol Use In New Mexico 2022 Infographic – Department of Health
- New Mexico Human Services Department Behavioral Health Services Division (BHSD)
- NMDOT – ENDWI Campaign
- Drunk Driving Statistics and Resources – NHTSA
- SAMHSA – Socializing Safely This Season: National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
- How To Talk To Kids About Alcohol
- SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You.” Campaign
- CDC – Sobering Facts: Drunk Driving in New Mexico Infographic
- CDC – Teen Drinking and Driving Facts