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Tips for Spotting Drunk Drivers

Do you want to see a scary number? How about this one: 110 million. What does it signify? That’s the number of times Americans collectively admit to driving after drinking each year. In fact, that number is probably low: In 2010, it was 112 million. Roughly 4 million drivers admitted to drinking and driving at least once that year, and those aren’t numbers to be taken lightly; they contribute to another one that should be just as disturbing. Year in and year out, about one-third of all traffic deaths involve alcohol. The last couple of years have seen a jump in overall traffic fatalities, with the number of roadway deaths in 2016 topping 40,000 for the first time in a decade. If drunk driving’s contribution has held steady, that means that more than 13,000 people died last year because someone got behind the wheel after drinking.

It’s impossible for us to stop everyone who makes the mistake of drinking and driving, and we can’t stay locked in our homes to reduce the risk (although, with the rise in crashes into buildings, even staying home won’t keep you completely safe). But there are things we can do to identify drunk drivers when we encounter them, and to avoid them once we’ve spotted them.

Give-Away Behaviors

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one of the oldest advocacy groups working to eliminate drinking and driving, offers a list of fifteen behaviors that might indicate a driver is intoxicated. They include the kind of things you’d expect—drifting into the other lane, swerving, and near-misses with other vehicles. But there are also things you might not think to associate with driving under the influence, such as driving below the speed limit, tailgating, and driving in the dark without the headlights on. It’s worth taking a look at the complete list. These items are well-recognized, and some have been mentioned on this site before.

It’s also worth your time and effort to educate yourself about what to do when you come across a driver you suspect is operating under the influence. MADD suggests the following:

  • Stay as far away from the other vehicle as possible.
  • Don’t try to pass the other vehicle and don’t distract the other driver by trying to get him or her to pull over.
  • Take note of the information that will identify this vehicle later: the make, model, color and, if possible, the license plate number.
  • As soon as it’s safe to do so, pull over and call 911 to report the vehicle. Include all the information you can to describe it, as well as the exact location and the direction it’s headed. Be prepared to describe what the other driver was doing that raised your suspicions.

This is all good advice. Just remember to do it safely. Your eagerness to get a dangerous driver off the road shouldn’t lead you to do something reckless, such as making the call to 911 while you’re driving. The number of crashes due to distracted driving—including cell phone use behind the wheel—continues to climb (although the damage they’re responsible for hasn’t caught up to the havoc wreaked by drunk drivers). You don’t want to become a statistic yourself.

Don’t Be “That Guy” or “That Girl”

As a Milwaukee car accident lawyer, I’ve seen the results of many crashes caused by drunk drivers. You can’t protect yourself from every reckless action by every irresponsible driver, but knowing how to spot a drunk driver and knowing what to do once you’ve spotted one can help reduce the risk you (and others) face. If getting this information out there helps prevent just one injury or save just one life, it will have made an important difference.

And by the way, if you were the driver in one of those 110 million drinking and driving incidents last year, please think about the potential consequence next time. Those 13,000 estimated victims weren’t all innocent bystanders. Many of them were the impaired drivers themselves. It’s an old message, but when it comes to drinking and driving, it’s still true: The life you save may be your own.

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