Drunk or Driving, Not Both

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On October 12th, 2018 I woke up to a phone call.

My grandmother’s voice trembled on the other line. I can still hear her as she told me my cousin had been killed in a car accident late the night before.

She couldn’t reach my parents so I ran to tell them. All of us sat in shock, she was only 22 years old. How could this happen?

“I just hope she wasn’t under the influence,” my grandma said.

It’s been over a year now and we’ve just barely learned the truth of what happened that night. My cousin had been drinking and decided to drive home. A friend of hers drove behind her to ensure she got there safely.

She didn’t. She hit a tree and died on impact.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 1 person dies every 48 minutes from drunk driving. 10,874 were killed in 2017 from crashes that were easily preventable.

But we’ve all heard statistics. As students we’ve taken the online course about drinking. We’ve seen the commercials, and many of us know the grief of losing someone to drunk driving. So why are people between the ages of 21 and 25 the highest population of drunk drivers at 27%?

The same question keeps coming up at family get-togethers since my cousin’s death, why?

Why did she drive drunk?

Why did this happen?

Where were her friends?

“My sister would still be here if one of her friends that night had the f***ing balls to take her keys. So, excuse me for hating people who drink and drive or allow others to drink and drive,” my cousin, Jessica, posted on her Twitter account.

In an NHTSA study, researchers interviewed 600 people and a 45 minute conversation was had with each person where they described what lead to their decision to drink and drive. The decisions were largely attributed to social and environmental influences as well as personal influences.

Environmental and social influences accounted for a third of decisions. The study explained the peer pressure and situations where drinking was expected and encouraged were the cause of most participants’ decisions to drive drunk.

Personal influences was the next biggest influence. Researchers attributed this to a person’s need to relax or use a ‘social lubricant’. But bigger than either of those things was that the person refused to admit or acknowledge that they were under the influence of alcohol.

As someone who has heard one too many drunk people claim they aren’t drunk, this didn’t surprise me. I’ve begged my fair share of drunk friends not to make stupid decisions, taken keys, and driven them home.

The NHTSA reported that it takes more than 2,000 individual decisions to lead to driving under the influence. Somewhere in all those decisions, my cousin made the one that would inevitably end her life.

2,000 decisions and it takes just one to save your and someone else’s life.

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