Motor vehicle accidents don’t observe holidays. There are no free passes from the risks of impaired driving, which increase dramatically at this time of the year. Alcohol is pervasive in American society and, as such, often plays a major role in many of the season’s celebrations. From office parties to family get-togethers, catching up with old friends to winding down from shopping stresses, it is important to make responsible decisions about alcohol consumption before getting behind the wheel.
According to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost 10,100 people were killed in 2013 in vehicle crashes involving alcohol. Defined as any fatal crash involving a driver with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, alcohol-impaired crashes accounted for 31 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle traffic fatalities that year. This translates into almost 30 fatalities each day or one every 51 minutes and a financial loss estimated to annually be $59 billion. Looking at just the month of December 2013, an astonishing 733 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver, and 23 of them died in Christmas Day car accidents.
There’s never a good time for driving while intoxicated, but data shows that the stress of the Christmas holiday season combined with shoppers jamming the roads increases the probability of accidents -- making it extra important for drivers to be in complete control of their faculties. For example, studies by the Highway Loss Data Institute show that collision claims increase by about 20 percent in December, and a professor at the University of Alabama analyzed 10 years of crash data in that state and determined that the hectic six days around Christmas saw 27 percent more accidents than New Year's Eve.
The unfortunate truth is that many drunk driving offenders aren’t learning their lesson. In 2013, drivers with BACs of 0.08 or higher who were involved in a fatal crash were six times more likely to have prior convictions for DWI. And when it comes to the holidays, a manufacturer of continuous alcohol monitoring bracelets has reported a 33 percent jump on Christmas Eve (and a staggering 155 percent jump on New Year’s Eve) in violations for DUI offenders monitored with its products. However, law enforcement makes no differentiation between drivers that are heavy drinkers and those that are occasional ones. Police departments across the country are cracking down on drunk driving this holiday season and reminding people to “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”
A 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce can of beer, and 1.5 ounces of liquor all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same intoxication potential. What varies is how a person’s body processes alcohol, which depends on many factors including weight, age, and gender. The one constant is that the more alcohol a person drinks, the more impaired they become, affecting everything from judgment to coordination, memory to muscle control – and increasing the likelihood of drunk driving arrest or accident.
In many states, those who host parties and serve alcohol can be held liable for traffic accidents caused by intoxicated guests. Under Florida’s narrowly written Dram Shop law, a social host can be held responsible only IF the host knew the guest was an alcoholic or was under the age of 21. However, Dram Shop claims are not the only civil claims available in many circumstances, and certainly whether or not one might face legal consequences is not the best policy to follow when deciding whether to provide someone with alcohol.
If you’re having a party, help yourself as well as the innocent people who will later share the road with your guests and consider:
- Providing non-alcoholic drink options
- Not serving alcohol during the last hour
- Selecting one person as the bartender and not letting people mix their own drinks
- Setting a good example with your own drinking
- Making arrangements for guests who’ve had too much, such as driving them home, calling a taxi, or letting them stay overnight.
Everyone at Stabinski & Funt, P.A. wishes our community and Floridians everywhere a safe and magical holiday season. While we hope that the celebration passes without incident, we are here if you need us. We have helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities and remedies. We strive to maintain client satisfaction and a track record of success in every case we handle. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, or you want to learn more about Christmas car accidents, we encourage you to contact us by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.