In 2013, 28.7 million people admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol – that’s more than the population of Texas.
Everyone drinks and drives. Everyone. If you are a social drinker and you have never gotten behind the wheel after 2 or more drinks, I am confident enough to say you’re lying. It’s one of the first things we learn starting back in elementary school - DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE! And yet, we still do it. It’s just like the question those of us who quit drinking have asked ourselves a million times - when is it TOO MUCH? How many drinks can we have and still drive? “But I don’t FEEL drunk, so I am OK to drive, right?” Asking these questions is like playing with fire. It’s a dangerous cycle, with the winner possibly getting home safe, and the loser crashing his car or worse. WHY DO WE DO IT!? It’s the million dollar question. One I’ve asked myself, my friends and my family members repeatedly.
I get it I really do because I’ve been there. I have driven intoxicated more times than I can count. I have consumed countless 2x1 beverages at a three-hour-long happy hour in Ocean City, Maryland, and then driven down Coastal Highway to my apartment. I drove the wrong way down a one-way street in my college town in a blackout, got pulled over, escaped a breathalyzer test, had my car impounded and lived to tell the story. I have agreed to be the designated driver and then attempted to hide the amount I drank all night and was surprised that my friends didn’t want to get in the car with me at the end of the night.
Whenever I ask people WHY, I get the same sort of answer. “I don’t know,” or, “I didn’t want to leave my car,” or, “I thought I was ok to drive.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people discussing how to know if they’re sober enough to drive or not. I always hear, “But I felt fine enough to drive.” I know nobody wants to hear this, but impairment begins after the first drink. Buzzed driving is still impaired driving. Not to mention, you are almost always more intoxicated than you think you are before driving. No matter how “sober” you feel, elevated blood alcohol levels have an intense impact on your ability to make decisions and perform tasks where you need to concentrate, like driving. Increased BAC is associated with decreased reaction time and that’s why it’s dangerous to drive while under the influence.
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. This is a fact. You make hasty decisions you might not make when sober, including choosing to drive a car. You also might choose to be the passenger in a car with someone else who is driving under the influence. Both of these are decisions that carry heavy risks.
I have family members who have been involved in drunk driving accidents that have injured others. Someone important to me chose to drive drunk just last weekend, which is another reason why I’m so heated about this topic. There is no worthy reason to get behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking. I don’t care if you don’t want to leave your car, if you feel like you’re ok to drive, or you’re ashamed because you didn’t plan on having to call for a ride. The alternative is putting your life and other lives at risk, not to mention giving your loved ones anxiety and fear. On average, two in every three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime, so yes it could happen to you.
In 2015, a family who are dear friends of mine here in Southwest Florida had their lives changed forever as a result of impaired driving. Evan Shepherd, son of my friend Patty Sala, sister to Lauren Harkins, and stepson of Larry Aguilar, was killed in a hit and run accident while driving at 1:30 AM on a early Sunday morning in January. After the other driver fled the scene of the accident, my friends waited months for answers and an arrest to be made. Finally, Yariza Herrera was arrested and charged with killing Evan and because she was a minor was sentenced to probation, has to comply with drug tests, random searches, and a curfew until she is 19-years-old. After her arrest, Evan’s family was clued in that alcohol played a factor in the crash and hit-and-run that night.
Evan’s family is left grieving his death and what his life could have been. That’s why they are involved with MADD. Evan’s sister Lauren is organizing this year’s Southwest Florida Walk like MADD and has committed to sharing her story about how impaired driving has affected her own life. MADD doesn’t just advocate for safer laws regarding impaired driving, they are committed to providing victim assistance for those who are affected by drunk driving crashes. MADD Victim Services provides emotional, financial, and legal support for victims and their families.
For me, the only way I can be 100 percent confident I will never get behind the wheel drunk again is to stay committed to my sobriety. When I think about all the times I put myself and others in danger, I cringe. Tears come to my eyes when I think of Evan and his family, what they have gone through and how I could have put someone, myself, and my own family into a similar set of circumstances.
Sobriety is a daily commitment and so is making amends. I can’t take back all those times I stupidly got behind the wheel and drove drunk. But what I can do is make a living amends with new behavior and commit to never doing it again. I can commit to spreading awareness about this preventable crime and these senseless deaths. I can be the whisper in the ear of all of my friends and family who still drink and who will think of me when they are making the decision to get behind the wheel or not. They might not all listen. They might not all care. But they will remember what I said.
That’s why I’m walking like MADD this Saturday. If you’re in Southwest Florida I hope you’ll join me. You can sign up here, or sign up at JetBlue Park on the morning of the race. If you’re located in another part of the U.S. I encourage you to sign up for your local race, talk about it, and educate your friends and families about MADD, impaired driving and what you can do to stop it.