(ARA) - If you were to conduct a poll of Americans, it's likely that a vast majority would associate New Year's Eve with drunk driving. But the reality is the danger of being hit by a drunk driver or receiving a citation for DUI (driving under the influence) may actually be far greater between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
While many Americans have become conditioned to take extra steps to avoid drinking and driving on New Year's Eve, many fail to recognize the danger that exists throughout the holiday season and the professional football season.
With office holiday parties, holiday get-togethers thrown by friends and family, and a myriad of professional sports events, the opportunities to consume alcohol seem nearly endless this time of the year. Add factors such as poor driving conditions due to winter weather, shorter daytime driving hours and other holiday season driving distractions, and you have all the ingredients of a potential tragedy on the road.
According to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading online source for legal information, drunk driving means being under the influence of any substance (alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, etc.) that impairs a person's ability to safely operate a motorized vehicle (car, motorcycle, boat, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), etc.). All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws defining it as a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above a proscribed level, currently .08 percent in most states. On average, the BAC among fatally injured drinking drivers is .16 and the relative risk of death for drivers in single-vehicle crashes with a high BAC is 385 times that of someone with a zero BAC.
The most important thing to do before going out to a holiday party or meeting friends at a local bar to watch a pro football game is to become familiar with the consequences of drinking and driving in your state. In many states, public safety officials are actively taking a stance against drunk driving through public information campaigns and stepped-up roadside DUI checks, especially during peak times, such as the holiday season.
Here are some additional tips from FindLaw.com on how to have a safer, DUI-free holiday season:
* Select a designated driver. Make sure to choose someone who promises not to drink and who will make sure that all passengers buckle up.
* Take a cab or public transportation. If you're traveling alone or with just one other person, consider taking a cab or public transportation to and from your holiday event.
* Hosting the holiday party. If you host a holiday party, either at your home or at your workplace, make sure to offer your guests a cab ride to get home, if they need it. Make sure to also offer non-alcoholic beverages to your guests - as well as food to offset alcohol intake.
* Be aware that you can receive a DUI while operating snowmobiles and ATVs as well. Also keep in mind that alcohol consumption combined with excessive speed and the lack of safety belts dramatically increases your odds of injury during a collision on the trail.
* Put down the cell phone. Even if you've only had one glass of wine or one beer, alcohol in any quantity can impair. Avoid compounding the situation with distractions such as talking on your cell phone or texting, which takes your eyes off the road.
* If you're pulled over, remember to treat the officer with respect; otherwise, he or she could use your defiance as evidence against you in a trial. Turn your car off, put your keys on the dashboard, keep your hands on the steering wheel, in full view of the police officer and be prepared to show your driver's license and proof of auto insurance.
* Think twice about refusing to take a breath test or blood alcohol content test. Some states impose severe consequences if you refuse a blood or breath test, as opposed to taking one and failing.
* Behavior matters. Even if you do test below the legal limit of .08 (standard in many states), an officer who still believes that you have demonstrated behavior that prevents you from safely operating a motor vehicle can arrest you. If you are taken to court, the prosecution will almost always rely on the arresting officer's testimony about your behavior and operation of the vehicle. This includes swerving your car, having slurred speech and/or bloodshot eyes, a heavy odor of alcohol and your inability to walk straight.
* Hire an attorney. Being convicted of a DUI can have serious ramifications. If you do go to court, it's essential to hire a defense attorney who specializes in DUI matters. To locate a lawyer who specializes in DUIs in your area, search FindLaw.com.