Preventing Impaired Driving During the Holidays

Dec. 17, 2019
With holiday parties in high gear, what can be done to encourage workers to drive safely?

The holiday season is the time of year to visit relatives, celebrate with coworkers and reminisce about the past 365 days.

These events often involve alcohol consumption, which is a major factor in many motor vehicle crashes. According to the National Safety Council, car travel has the highest fatality rate of any form of transportation based on fatalities per passenger mile.

While rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft exist, this is not an option for long road trips and might be overlooked as an option for holiday work functions that occur during work hours.

In an exclusive Q&A with EHS Today, Laura Adams, safety and education analyst at, speaks about worker safety at holiday parties and what can be done to prevent injuries and fatalities due to impaired driving.

EHS Today: What demographics/ age groups are more at risk this holiday season?

Laura Adams: The risks of impaired driving during the holidays exist across all demographics and age groups. However, drinking and drug use may be more common in social situations for younger Americans. Hitting your 30s or getting married and having children may tend to slow down partying.

What can employers do to improve worker safety at holiday parties (alternatives to alcohol, different activities…etc.)

Adams: If you’re worried that hosting a company holiday party will turn into a human resources disaster or a minefield of liability, it’s still possible to have a fun and joyous event. There are many ways for organizations to celebrate safely.

  • Have a Secret Santa event where everyone draws a name from a hat and secretly buys a gift for that co-worker.
  • Play “Dirty Santa,” where everyone brings a wrapped gift to put under the Christmas tree. Draw numbers and in order, either choose a wrapped gift or steal an unwrapped gift from a co-worker who took their turn. Agree on the rules, such as the total number of times you can steal a gift, before starting the game.
  • Have a week of themed events, such as an ugly Christmas sweater contest on Monday, a cookie bake-off on Wednesday, and a gift exchange on Friday.
  • If you want to throw a bash with alcohol, consider offering a cash bar, a certain number of tickets per employee for free drinks, or serving only beer and wine. You allow the bar to be open for a limited time, instead of letting the booze flow indefinitely. And always have plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages to reduce the likelihood that partygoers will overindulge.

Do you know of any innovative ways to educate their workers about the risks associated with impaired driving?

Adams: It’s a good idea to remind employees about HR policies ahead of a holiday party where you’re serving alcohol or expect people to be engaged in any potentially risky behavior. Remember that employers are responsible for what happens—so, be clear about your expectations.

Putting time between the workday and a party can help reduce risk. In other words, consider having a party offsite or on a weeknight after business hours. Also, make sure employees know that attendance isn’t mandatory.

Have a designated driver, such as a company-paid bus or ridesharing service, to make sure employees get home safely. You might ask for volunteers who will watch out for heavy drinking and call cabs or rideshare drivers as needed.

You might also make your holiday party a family event and include employees’ spouses and partners. You could also include workers’ children and set up kid-friendly holiday activities, such as decorating a tree or playing games.

How can we generate discussion to be more responsible?

Adams: In the 2019 Holiday Drinking and Impaired Driving Report from, 25% (up 2% from 2018) of Americans admit that they drink more alcohol, and 9% say they use more marijuana over the holiday season. There are many reasons why we may overindulge as the New Year approaches, including visits from family, having to be more social, feeling stressed, or being lonely.

The survey revealed the 11% (up from 9% from 2018) of respondents who planned to drink at office parties said they’d drive themselves home. And of those who’ll be consuming alcohol on New Year’s Eve, 7% said they plan to drive home, up from 6% last year.

All this extra partying shows up in the sobering car crash fatality statistics, which increase dramatically at the end of the year. In the week between Christmas and New Year, 781 people died in alcohol-related car accidents in 2016.

These shocking statistics can be the starting point of discussions about the dangers of drinking, using drugs, or taking medications that could dull your reaction time while driving. Holiday parties are an excellent time to connect with co-workers and make fun memories. But nothing is more important than making sure workers get home safely and don’t jeopardize others on the road.

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