With holidays approaching, ‘buzzed’ driving all too frequent

    The trauma team at Crozer-Chester Medical Center is staffing up for the long Thanksgiving weekend.

    It’s a necessary tradition, said trauma physician Marcin Jankowski, because of the number of people injured in car crashes. Often those accidents involve a driver who imbibed but didn’t plan ahead to find a safe way home, he said.

    “We definitely see a spike during these times going into the holiday weekend when people have more time off,” said Jankowski, medical director of the center’s trauma program.

    “The patients that we come across often say to us, ‘Well, I just had a few drinks,’ and really don’t gauge their inability to make good decisions. They underestimate the effect of ‘a few drinks,'” Jankowski said.

    The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says the Thanksgiving travel period is one of the deadliest of the year.

    Last year, 48 people died in 4,683 crashes across Pennsylvania during the Thanksgiving travel period, which includes the weekend before and after the Thursday holiday.

    Some law enforcement and public health experts caution against riding with a drunken driver — or a “buzzed” driver.

    Buzzed driving means getting behind the wheel with any measurable level of alcohol in your blood, said sociologist David Phillips, a professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego where he tracked fatal car crashes linked to alcohol consumption.

    “In a crash between a buzzed driver and a sober driver, even if you are minimally buzzed — you are 46 percent more likely to be blamed for the crash than is the sober person you crash into,” Phillips said. “Some official investigator has decided this upon investigating.”

    For most people “getting buzzed” takes only one or two beers, he said.

    “There’s no level of blood alcohol which is safe,” said Phillips. “Even 0.01 percent, the lowest possible level, you are much more likely to be in a crash.”

    Lab tests show that any level of alcohol impairs reaction times and performance.

    In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all states cut the legal driving limit to 0.05 percent blood alcohol content — down from 0.08 percent, now the limit across the country.

    Critics say that move would create criminals out of many responsible social drinkers, and they say there’s not much political will to change state laws.

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