Dr. Thomas Esposito, trauma surgeon at Loyola University Health System, stressed that alcohol impairs a person’s physical ability whether she is behind the wheel or strolling down a sidewalk.
"Every movement ranging from driving a car to simply walking to the bathroom is compromised," Esposito explained. "Alcohol impairs your judgment, reflexes and coordination. Alcohol is nothing more than a socially acceptable, over-the-counter stimulant/depressant and, especially during the holidays, alcohol is frequently abused."
Alcohol plays a significant role in the deaths of pedestrians throughout the year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2008, 38 percent of fatally injured pedestrians 16 and older had blood-alcohol concentrations at or above 0.08 percent, which is the legal definition for impaired driving in Illinois. The percentage rose to 53 percent for deaths occurring during 9 p.m.-6 a.m. Fourteen percent of pedestrian deaths involved drivers with blood alcohol content at or above .08 percent.
In 2005, the journal Injury Prevention reported that New Year's Day is more deadly for pedestrians than any other day of the year. From 1986 to 2002, 410 pedestrians were killed on New Year's Day. Fifty-eight percent of those killed had high blood-alcohol concentrations. Esposito added that those statistics don't take into account the people who suffer injuries in their homes from unintentional causes and violence after drinking.
Walk This Way
Esposito offers the following tips to pedestrians, drivers and party hosts for staying safe – and not becoming a walking hazard – on New Year’s and year round:
• Be visible. If you know you’ll be walking at night, wear bright or reflective clothing. Dark clothing will make it difficult for drivers to see you.
• Stay out of the road. Only walk on sidewalks and cross at designated crosswalks.
• Use the buddy system. "It's a good idea to walk in a group, which is easier for drivers to spot, " Esposito said. "And try to walk with at least one person who has not been drinking, a designated chaperone or escort."
• Give pedestrians a brake. If you’re driving this holiday, be extra care in restaurant and bar districts. Remember, intoxicated pedestrians have slower reflexes and can be unpredictable.
• Be a responsible host. "People hosting parties in which alcohol is consumed have as much of obligation to watch over their guests who are walking home as they do with those who may be driving," explained Esposito.
If you recognize that your guests are too intoxicated to safely walk or drive home, either call a cab or let them sleep it off at your place. So this New Year's, be sure to act responsibility – whether you’re driving, walking or throwing the party. Cheers.