Keep Celebrations in Check this Summer

The summer months are a time of celebration – weddings, graduation parties, sporting events, and back yard get-togethers with family members and friends. Alcohol is often a part of the festivities and unfortunately too many people get behind the wheel after throwing back a few drinks. When that happens, tragedy can follow – whether it’s just an arrest for OWI or a crash that causes serious injury or death.

In 2010, 213 people in Wisconsin died in alcohol-related accidents. Of that number, 36 were 21 and under. In addition, 68 percent of drunk drivers involved in fatal and serious injury accidents had no prior OWI arrests, according to the latest University of Wisconsin study on the issue.

Many people, however, look at those numbers and think it can’t happen to them. They know when they’ve had too much to drink or  think “it’s just a short ride.” The truth is it can happen to you or your loved ones.

Why is  alcohol so dangerous combined with driving? The chemicals in alcohol slow your reaction speed so it takes longer for you to react to other vehicles or a change in the road, such as an unexpected curve. Alcohol also impairs your judgment so you may think it’s just fine to go 80 miles per hour down the road or that you’ll be able to beat out that other vehicle.

As you enjoy a few cold ones this summer, please keep the following in mind:

  • Choose a designated driver. Pick one person in your group who will stay sober and have him drive everyone home.
  • If you forgot to pick a designated driver or chose not to, figure waiting about 45 minutes per drink before hitting the road. That’s about how long it takes for the alcohol’s effects to wear off.
  • If you see someone who’s obviously had too much to drink, take away her keys. Sure, it may be awkward and embarrassing at the time, but think about how you would feel if that person was involved in a fatal accident.
  • Remember you can still have a good time without alcohol. There are plenty of cold drinks out there, such as lemonade, you can enjoy on a hot summer day or warm evening.

Share this information with your children.  Remind them that if they’re at a party and they – or a friend who was supposed to be driving them home – drinks too much that they can call you at any time to come and pick them up.

Given Wisconsin’s high rate of alcohol consumption, it’s not surprising the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities is higher here than the national average. But by taking proper precautions – such as picking a designated driver or enforcing a strict limit on what you consume -- you can lessen your chances of being one of the statistics.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.