Saturday, February 18, 2012

Too many nips

I have mentioned before that I have a Mike Dukakis tendency to pick up trash as I walk through my neighborhood.  As archaeologists and anthropologists know, you can learn a lot about a society from its trash.  Lately, I have been impressed -- in a very negative way -- by what I have been seeing.  Here's a sample from a short walk today:

These are nips, small bottles of alcoholic beverages.  The vodka and whiskey ones are 50ml in size and are 40% alcohol.  So, when someone chugs one, he is swallowing 20ml of pure alcohol.*  Someone out there can tell me how many you need to drink in what time period to be legally drunk (.08% blood alcohol concentration), but even short of that threshold, driver performance is impaired.

The severity of alcohol-induced impairment depends on the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream, which is based on a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) percentage. Most people begin to feel the effects of alcohol when their BAC ranges between 0.03% and 0.059%. At this point, the person feels mild euphoria, relaxation, and talkativeness, but he or she suffers from impaired alertness, judgment, coordination, and concentration. 

When an individual's blood alcohol content reaches between 0.03% and 0.059%, the brain's ability to handle tasks required for safe driving becomes impaired and more severely hindered as the BAC level increases. The brain's ability to control eye movements and process information is affected simultaneously. This means that alcohol-impaired drivers take more time to read signs or respond to traffic signals or other drivers. At this BAC level, steering is affected in combination with the driver's ability to stay in the proper lane.

It appears that 9,000 to 11,000 people per year are arrested for driving under the influence in Massachusetts.  Most of those are on the highways.  The bottles I am finding, though, are on city streets, both main streets and residential areas.

Alcohol-impaired drivers also have difficulty concentrating on multiple tasks at a time. For example, a driver may be able to stay within the boundaries of a lane but forget to monitor his or her speed. 

So if we add talking on the cellphone or texting to the equation, we have an even more serious problem.

The latest report I can find reports 11,773 fatalities in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes during 2008,  representing an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 45 minutes.  Sixteen percent of children 14 and younger killed in car accidents were killed when at least one driver had a BAC over .08%.  But the report only includes incidents where the BAC was over .08%.  These nips indicate that there are plenty of other drivers on the road who should not be.

* Yes, I know that drinking a can of beer has a similar amount of alcohol:  A can of beer is 355 ml and has 5% alcohol, for a total of 17.75 ml of pure alcohol.  And I also see plenty of beer cans on the roadside.  But the nips are especially problematic in that they are often swallowed in one mouthful. 


Anonymous said...

I am jumping to the conclusion that primarily teenagers are responsible, but your post dovetails with a report from the Governors' Highway Safety Assn showing an uptick in teen auto fatalities for the first time in 8 years. It mentions 'distracted driving', but it is the conclusion which resonated with me:

"....states should not accept these deaths as something that cannot be prevented. More work can and should be done to save teen lives." (Washington Post, today, p. A3)

Sounds like central line infections, doesn't it? "These things happen."


Sharon said...

I was struck by this post as I walk my dog every day in a fairly high-end residential neighborhood in Plymouth. I have long been disturbed by the number of "nips" that my Lab "Gibbs" sniffs out. Often, it does not require "sniffing".....the empties are readily visible. More nips than beer cans........

Unknown said...

I pick up trash every week. There are nip botts, pint bottles, liter bottles. Rum and vodka typically. With Beer it's Busch, Bud, and Coors. Every weekend the same situation. There are numerous drunk drivers, yet they are never caught until they kill somebody.