Photography: Pexels / Burak K
Teenagers may be the main offenders, but many adults also continue to disregard the repercussions of their impaired driving. Here's how you can prevent a guest—or stranger—from driving under the influence.
About four Canadians are killed and 175 injured every day as a result of people driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). But we all can help change that.
“A moral decision needs to be made to help keep our communities safe," says Chaouki Hamka, Regional Director of MADD Canada's Ontario West division. Intervening when you suspect someone has had too much to drink and is inclined to get behind the wheel—or when someone is already behind the wheel—is our duty. Dissuading someone from driving or calling 911 when spotting a potentially impaired driver on the road can save lives—but depending on your situation, often isn't easy to do.
Whether you're hosting a dinner party and serving alcohol to guests or witnessing a possibly impaired person from a distance, here's what you can do:
What should I do and know as a host?
Know your legal responsibilities. You can be held liable if you serve a person to intoxication (or an already intoxicated person) and they injure themselves or others. The easiest way to control the alcohol consumption under your roof is by pouring your guests' drinks yourself, serving plenty of food and offering water. Limit your alcohol intake to maintain your own good judgement, and make sure everyone has a safe ride home.
How do I know if someone is impaired and shouldn’t drive?
Watch for the signs: erratic or abnormal behaviour, slurring, bloodshot and/or watery eyes, flushed face, an odour of alcohol, and decreased judgement, attention, and comprehension. Signs of drug use include bloodshot eyes, decreased judgement, attention, and comprehension, slower speech, and inappropriate behaviour.
What if I’m not sure?
"If your gut tells you the person should not be driving, whether you consider yourself an expert at knowing or not, you should not let that deter you from convincing the driver not to drive, or calling the police," says Hamka. Consider the skills and alertness that's required to drive a car safely. Just one drink can reduce judgement, concentration and coordination, and impair vision and tracking ability, decision making, and reaction time—all that should help you decide.
What do I say to intervene?
Hamka says to remain calm, and suggest options: offer a place to stay, call a cab, organize a ride with a sober driver, call a family member and/or suggest a solution to retrieve the car the next day. Tell them, “It’s just not worth the risk,” and if the person is still set on driving, you'll have to remind them that impaired driving could have a significant impact on the rest of their life and the lives of others. It's considered a violent crime with severe penalties. List possible consequences, like loss of licence and job, impact on family members, financial costs, and don't be afraid to ask them, “How will you live with yourself if you hurt someone?”
What if talking doesn’t work?
Hamka recommends taking their keys if it is safe to do so. “Don’t put yourself in a situation where you can get physically harmed,” and don't be afraid to dial 9-1-1 if necessary.
But, I don’t want my friend/spouse to get into trouble or to be upset with me.
You'll be doing them a favour by saving them potential personal injury, criminal charges and a lifetime of regret. Remember, while impaired, they don’t have the judgement to make a smart decision. Think of it this way: By not intervening, you risk losing your friend in a way that is far worse than severed a friendship.
What about me? How do I know when I'm okay to drive?
When in doubt, don't drive. And before you go out for a drink, here's what you need to know:
- Time is the only way for your body to process and eliminate alcohol. Drinking coffee, water, or taking a cold shower may make you feel more alert, but nothing besides time will decrease your blood alcohol concentration.
- After you have reached a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08, it takes approximately 6 hours for your body to eliminate the alcohol.
- Limiting yourself to one drink an hour will not necessarily keep you under the legal limit; as the alcohol builds up in your system, your BAC continues to rise with each drink.