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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Luskin: Safe Holidays

When I was eighteen, so was the drinking age. My friends and I drank our parents’ booze in each others’ homes. One icy December night I was on my way home from such a gathering. At best, steering my mom’s station wagon was like navigating a boat. That night, I swerved to a stop after running a red light. I was lucky: the intersection was empty. I was shaken. And I was drunk.

Only now do I realize how easily I got off. Like most people who drive under the influence, I wasn’t caught: no ticket, no suspended license, nothing but a sobering lesson that’s served me well. At eighteen, I figured out that while I was legal to drink and licensed to drive, I could never again do both at the same time.

In a state like Vermont, driving is a fact of rural life, so it takes both awareness and planning to be able to enjoy a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a shot of booze and get home safely. Many people drive on back roads to avoid detection, but that’s still unwise. For one, it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content over 8%, and for good reason. Driving skills and judgment are affected by a single drink; they deteriorate with more.

Secondly, a conviction of a DUI is costly. Here, the average cost for a first-time offense, including fines, Probation, lawyer, and increased insurance is more than $10,000 – not counting lost income from missing work, or the financial or emotional strain on relationships.

The third reason, of course, is that impaired drivers are dangerous. In most fatal DUI crashes in Vermont, it’s the drunk driver who dies - but sometimes it’s someone who’s stone cold sober. My parents’ friend Gloria was hit by a drunk while she was crossing a street. She was forty and the mother of two young sons. She raised them from a wheelchair - and considered herself lucky.

That’s not the kind of impact I want to have on strangers’ lives, so I’ve come up with a personal Safe Driving Plan that’s S-M-A-R-T. SMART’s an acronym for Specific, Manageable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. My plan is threefold: my first choice is always to drink at home; if I go out, it’s with a predetermined designated driver; often, I volunteer to be the DD myself.

As W.C. Fields once said, “I never worry about being driven to drink, I only worry about being driven home.”

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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