photo of an alcoholic drink and car keys

Think before you drive under the influence

My phone vibrates throughout the night with notifications of trauma patients being rushed to the emergency center. Many of these are traumas are related to drinking and driving.  

South Carolina was ranked as having the fifth deadliest roadways in America in 2015, according to a report by USA Today. South Carolina received this ranking because 44 percent of fatalities on our roadways were attributed to an alcohol-impaired driver. 

To many people, impaired driving means driving under the influence of alcohol, and though this definition is true, it’s incomplete. 

The most widely accepted definition of impaired driving is “operating a motor vehicle while you are under the influence of alcohol, legal drugs (such as over the counter medication or prescription medication), illegal drugs, or a combination of the previously stated.”

Some sources, such as, add even more to the term; defining impaired driving as, operating a motor vehicle while you are affected by:

  • Alcohol
  • Legal or illegal drugs
  • Sleepiness
  • Distractions, such as using a cell phones
  • Having a medical condition that affects your driving

Whatever definition you lean towards the message is the same: Do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you cannot operate it safely.

It doesn’t matter if you think you are OK to drive, or if your route is a lightly traveled two-mile stretch. Do not do it

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports alcohol-impaired driving is the cause of nearly 1/3 of traffic fatalities nationwide. Those numbers only account for fatalities caused by someone under the influence of alcohol. It does not account for those under the influence of legal or illegal drugs. Nor does it include distracted cases such as texting, putting on makeup, eating, falling asleep at the wheel, or entertaining a child in the back seat. 

What can we do to decrease our chances of becoming a statistic?

First and foremost, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you are impaired in any way. 

  • Do not get into a vehicle with a driver who is impaired.
  • Decrease your travels during the days when you know there will be more traffic.
  • Avoid traveling after dark and in the late hours of the night.
  • Be a defensive driver. Do not assume others on the road are going to obey the rules of the road. 
  • Wear your seat belt and have safety devices armed, such as airbags.
  • Stay focused on the road and eliminate known distractions (phones).
  • Use ride-sharing, a taxi or even ask a friend or family member.
  • Make arrangements to stay the night with your loved ones.

Our goal is to make it to our destination. Our families and friends may be upset if we are late or if someone needs to come and pick us up, but they would much rather see us around the dinner table than on the coroners table. 

Did you know?

Drunk driving deaths were up nationwide in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. South Carolina had 331 drunk driving deaths that same year, an increase of 24 from 2015.

Nationally, drunk driving increased by 177 fatalities to 10,497. It marks the second year for an alarming trend of increased drunk driving deaths.

T.J. Mack is the Trauma Injury Prevention and Outreach Coordinator for Spartanburg Medical Center.