Drunk and Drugged Driving Car Crashes Soar in December Amid the Holidays

Driving under the influence of certain prescription drugs, like opioids, more than doubles the risk of a fatal car crash, researchers warn

As the holiday season gets underway, a new report warns about the surge in deaths from car accidents typically seen in the month of December, typically involving the operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In a report released by Pharmacy Times on December 10, researchers seek to raise awareness of the nationally recognized Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention month of December, warning the week of Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day is one of the deadliest travel periods due to impaired driving accidents.

Impaired driving fatalities account for roughly a quarter of all highway deaths, with 10,874 people reportedly killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017 where a driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit of .08 grams per deciliter, according to previous statistics released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

While all states maintain laws prohibiting drivers from operating vehicles while the under the influence of alcohol, the report indicates many people do not understand that driving under the influence of illicit substances, or legal prescription medications such as opioids and benzodiazepines, is also illegal, and extremely dangerous.

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies involving prescription opioid use while driving and found individuals were at more than twice the likelihood of being involved of a crash, and nearly twice as likely to be at fault if a crash occurs.

Two additional meta analyses reviewing drivers under the influence of benzodiazepines, which are popularly prescribed medications used to treat individuals for anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, were found to be 60% more likely to be involved in a car crash and 40% more likely to be at fault for the crash. Furthermore, researchers found the mixture of either an illicit or prescription medication with alcohol increased the risk 7.7 fold.

According to the NHTSA crash data, over the last five years an average of 300 people died in drunk driving crashes the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. In 2016 alone, 781 people were killed in drunk driving related crashes in the month of December.

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Drunk and Drugged Driving Not Just a Holiday Problem

Alcohol impaired car accidents account for nearly a quarter of the annual traffic fatalities each year. The NHTSA recorded that an estimated 37,461 people died in all traffic crashes in the United States in 2016, while 10,497 of those fatal crashes involved a driver with an illegal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater.

Due to the increase annually in fatal crashes, NHTSA officials have begun launching an annual advertising campaign, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” which is designed to encourage travelers throughout the holiday season to not drink and drive.

The campaign stresses the importance for individuals to drive responsibly and to avoid consuming alcoholic beverages before taking to the roadways. Individuals are being encouraged to plan a safe ride home and designating a sober driver, or using the NHTSA’s SaferRide app to call a taxi or a friend to be picked up.


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