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Drunk and drugged driving: 6 tips to steer clear of holiday trouble

National Drunk & Drugged Driver Awareness Month

You’re feeling the seasonal cheer, but you might want to rethink your plan to spike that eggnog or toss back several beers at the holiday party if you or your guests plan to drive home. 

The holiday season can be a dangerous time to drive, and December has been designated National Impaired Driving Prevention Month to keep the roads a little safer.

So, here are six tips to help you and your friends steer clear of drunk and drugged driving this season:

1. Plan ahead for a safe way home

If you’re attending or hosting a party, think beforehand about rides home, says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, an organization that educates the public about insurance. Of course, you could find (or be) a designated driver.

See also: How traffic tickets and moving violations affect car insurance (Calculator)

In many cities, you have the option of using services like Uber or Lyft, and many people have those apps installed on their smartphones, Walker points out. Some communities provide holiday safe ride programs. For example, some local AAA clubs offer free rides on certain dates.

Or, just spring for a cab, says Steven Oberman, a Tennessee attorney who specializes in DUI defense law. “A cab is a lot less expensive than a lawyer,” he says.

2. Reach for non-alcoholic drinks

If you’re drinking, alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water or other beverage. And if you’re hosting a party, provide libations that don’t contain alcohol, Walker says. Good choices include sparkling water, soft drinks, tea, non-boozy cocktails or alcohol-free punch.

Hosts also should stop the flow of alcohol at a designated time and brew up a pot of coffee, Walker says.

3. Don't listen to your drinking buddy

You know that old myth, often repeated on bar stools, about how you can have one drink an hour and be OK to drive? It’s wrong, Oberman says. There are no guarantees, but keeping your intake to half that amount – one drink every two hours – should keep most people under the legal limit, he says. (That’s .08 BAC in almost all states.)

And one drink means: 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (about 40 percent alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (about 12 percent alcohol) or 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol). If you’re drinking higher alcohol beer, such as some craft beers, adjust your drink size, Oberman says.

4. Check the label on your meds

Impaired driving isn’t limited to partiers. Some over-the-counter medicines, such as cold medicine, as well as certain prescription medications, can affect your driving, Oberman says.

Look to see if your medication carries a warning that it might make you drowsy, he says. If it does, don’t drive while taking it.

5. Don't mix substances

Pairing alcohol with any other drug – from a cold medicine that makes you drowsy to marijuana – is a bad move, Oberman says. That’s because of what’s known as the synergistic effect, which is what happens when two or more drugs work together in the body.

“Normally one plus one equals two,” he says. But the synergistic effect “could mean one plus one equals four or five.”

6. Don't rely on home breathalyzers

Some drinkers mistakenly think they can blow into the little breathalyzer they carry in their purse or on their key chain to find out if they’re below the legal limit. There are several problems with this strategy, Oberman says.

First, these devices are likely to be inaccurate. Second, many people don’t realize it takes 20 minutes to an hour or more for alcohol to be absorbed, he says. So, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) could continue to rise after you walk out the door.

Bottom line: It’s always safest not to drink (or consume other drugs) at all if you plan to drive home after the party.

Says Oberman, "That's your best bet."

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