Drinking and driving is a much-publicized, dangerous combination, but is walking after drinking any safer?
“No, alcohol impairs your physical ability , period,” said trauma surgeon Dr. Thomas Esposito at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill.
“Every movement ranging from driving a car to simply walking to the bathroom is compromised,” Esposito said. “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.”
A trauma surgeon for more than 25 years, Esposito has witnessed the tragic aftermath of drunken walking in his own work many times. “From July 2009 to June 2010, 105 people were treated at Loyola after being struck by cars. Fifty-five had their blood-alcohol content checked. Of those, 16 individuals, or 29 percent, were found to have had some level of alcohol in their system,” said Esposito, who is chief of the division of trauma, surgical critical care and burns in the Department of Surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Thirteen individuals, or 24 percent, had blood-alcohol concentrations at or above .08 percent, the accepted level for intoxication.”
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 (BAC).
Alcohol also 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 between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Fourteen percent of pedestrian deaths involved drivers with blood-alcohol content at or above .08 percent.
“If they had been driving and were stopped by police, they would have been arrested for driving under the influence,” Esposito said.
He added that those statistics don’t take into account the people who suffer injuries in their homes from unintentional causes and violence after drinking.
“It’s not just walking outside. We often see people who have been drinking that have fallen down the stairs or tripped at home and injured themselves. Others have unwisely chosen to ‘get into it’ with guns, knives, bottles and fists,” Esposito said.