Every 53 minutes someone in the U.S. dies in an accident involving a drunk driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 28 deaths each day and 10,220 deaths each year.
Let that sink in.
Every year there are over 10,000 deaths caused by something that is, quite frankly, unbearably stupid and entirely preventable.
Every time I mention anything to my mom about weekend festivities, she asks if I have a ride. But what’s most relevant here is the follow-up question. Without pause, she asks, “Do you know a lot of people who drink and drive?” And each time, I respond quickly with a definitive, “No,” as if it’s the dumbest question she’s ever asked before. I think this defensiveness spurs from my subconscious — the part of me that likes to believe that this doesn’t happen, and that it certainly doesn’t happen at my school. But the truth is, it’s more common than we’d like to believe.
In 2010, U.S. News and World Report revealed, “Drinking and driving among college students is still a major public health problem . . . with one in five admitting to driving while drunk and 40 percent acknowledging they have ridden with a drunk driver.” As you can probably already tell from those statistics, there are two major problems here.
The first, of course, is the fact that one in five students are reckless enough to get behind the wheel while wasted. Although penalties vary depending on circumstances, there is a pretty clear set of guidelines that are generally applied according to one’s blood alcohol level (BAC). For reference, the legal limit is 0.08 percent. According to the Minnesota DMV, an intoxicated driver with a BAC under 0.16 percent will be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of $1000. Anyone who’s really sloshed with a BAC that skyrockets above 0.16 percent will be charged with a gross misdemeanor and could face up to one year in jail and/or a fine of $3,000.
Now please explain to me why anyone would be willing to risk driving drunk when the penalties are this severe? These aren’t temporary punishments either. They go on your record, and they’ll follow you throughout your life.
Let’s not forget that these punishments become even more severe if someone is endangered or killed because of your negligent driving. U.S. News and World Report interviewed Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, who said, “Drinking and driving endangers the safety of not only the drinking driver and passengers, but also other individuals on the road. College students have limited driving experience, making drinking and driving possibly even more hazardous.”
As much as we hate to admit it, we’re less experienced in this respect than almost everyone else. It may seem like you've been driving for an eternity, but most college students have only been legally driving for two to six years. And let’s not pretend that driving is any easier with a car full of other loud, messy drunk people.
This brings me to the second major problem. The statistic from the U.S. News and World Report cited earlier revealed to us that 40 percent of students are willing to get in the car with an intoxicated driver. This means that, out of 10 of your friends, four would be willing to risk their lives — would put their trust in someone who can’t even walk straight. This means that four of your friends might not come home. Although the drunk driver is certainly to blame in this case, I think the passengers are almost just as much to blame. By agreeing to ride in the car with an intoxicated person, we’re promoting drunk driving. We’re saying it’s okay to risk our lives, and it’s okay to endanger other drivers and pedestrians. Granted, I don’t think any of us genuinely feel that way, but that’s what our actions say. And, as is true in many other aspects of life, if our views don’t align with our actions, something needs to change.
Sometimes I think we like to stay in our little bubble where bad things don’t happen — at least not to us — and we like to believe that national statistics on issues like drunk driving don’t apply to our own communities. But that’s not realistic. I know people who have driven drunk, and I know even more people who have been a passenger to a drunk driver. You know them too. Statistically, there are only so many times you can drive drunk and get out unscathed. It’s only so long before you become one of those 10,220 people who don’t leave the car alive.
So the next time you need a ride home from the bar or a party, don’t be stupid. Get an Uber, call a friend, take a cab—but don’t drive drunk. Don't become a statistic.