DWI’s dangerous cousin: Walking while intoxicated
Drivers are inundated with public service messages about the dangers of drunken driving. But an expert from Loyola University is trying to get the message out about another, perhaps equally hazardous activity — walking while intoxicated (WWI).
“The good news is that people have really started to pay attention to the dangers of drunk driving,” says Dr. Thomas Esposito, a trauma surgeon at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. “But what you have now are people walking home from a party under the influence rather than driving, and their degree of impairment is just as potentially dangerous as if they were behind the wheel of a vehicle.”
Choosing to walk while intoxicated instead of driving while intoxicated could save you a heap on your auto insurance — and could save your life and the lives of others. On the flip side, walking while intoxicated could land you in the emergency room and stick you with thousands of dollars in medical bills. WWI also could put you in an early grave.
|A surgeon at the Loyola University Health System warns of a sometimes overlooked problem: walking while intoxicated.|
Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), says her organization hasn’t focused much on the WWI problem. Still, she can understand the need for caution.
“To be sure, both drunk driving and walking while intoxicated are dangerous, since your reaction times are impaired,” Withers says. “The difference is that with walking, you’re putting yourself at risk. When you’re behind the wheel, you are also putting other people at risk.”
New Year’s Day: Deadly for pedestrians
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, pedestrian deaths inched up slightly during the first six months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009. That small uptick followed four years of declines in pedestrian deaths.
In 2005, the journal Injury Prevention reported New Year’s Day is the deadliest day of the year for pedestrians. From 1986 to 2002, 410 walkers or cyclists were killed on Jan. 1; nearly six of every 10 of those killed had high blood-alcohol levels.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also says alcohol is a major factor in pedestrian deaths. In 2009, the institute says, 37 percent of pedestrians 16 and older who were killed registered a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent. That’s the legal limit for driving while intoxicated in all 50 states.
For Loyola’s Esposito, the WWI risk is about more than facts and figures. Esposito, a trauma surgeon with more than 25 years of experience, and his Loyola colleagues treated more than 100 people who had been hit by vehicles from July 2009 to June 2010.
Esposito says 55 of those victims had their blood-alcohol levels checked. Sixteen of them, or about 29 percent, had alcohol in their systems, Esposito says. Thirteen of the victims had blood-alcohol levels at or above 0.08 percent. That’s the legal limit for driving while intoxicated in all 50 states.
John Wetmore, publisher of Pedestrians.org and producer of “Perils for Pedestrians,” a monthly TV series promoting safety for walkers and cyclists, says poor infrastructure for pedestrians contributes to the problem of drunken and sober people on foot being killed.
Esposito “suggests using sidewalks when drunk, but a lot of roads do not have sidewalks, or the sidewalks are right at the curb, where a stumble would put the pedestrian into the street,” Wetmore says. “He also suggests using crosswalks, but despite the requirements of the law, depending on the local driving culture, drivers often don’t stop for sober pedestrians in a crosswalk, much less drunk pedestrians.”
The best defense against a WWI injury? Walk with a sober pedestrian.
“Try to walk together in a larger group. The larger the better, because it’s easier for drivers to see a group than just one or two people,” Esposito says.
Motorists also should be cautious when driving near restaurants and bars. Drunken pedestrians have slower reflexes and typically aren’t as aware as sober walkers and bikers are.
The insurance consequences of WWI
Esposito stresses that his WWI message certainly isn’t an endorsement of drunken driving, which is the more dangerous activity. Both activities, however, can affect your insurance.
If you’re struck by a car or you stumble as a drunken pedestrian, you can rack up some hefty medical bills. Depending on what kind of health insurance you have — or whether you have it at all — you could be feeling the pain of a WWI injury for a long time.
As for driving while intoxicated, it not only can affect your health insurance if you’re hurt in a crash, but it can hurt your auto insurance as well.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, auto insurers may check your driving record only once every three years or when you apply for a new policy. If a DWI is discovered, you’ll most likely be classified as a high-risk drive and your premium may soar by as much as 300 percent. Or your coverage could be canceled entirely.
Laws concerning DWIs and auto insurance vary from state to state. However, most states require drunken driving offenders with suspended licenses to obtain a form called a SR-22 from their insurers. The form proves to the state department of motor vehicles that the driver carries liability insurance, which usually is required to get a license back.
The form also requires an auto insurance company to notify the state’s motor vehicle department if your policy is canceled for any reason. A driver probably will have to file these forms for three to five years following a DWI conviction.