- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2000

The holiday season, with its rounds of parties and special events, can be a smorgasbord of overindulgence. With alcohol flowing freely, revelers must remember that an evening of drinking can end with far more tragic consequences than the headache and dry heaves they may anticipate.

Statistics on drinking and driving are sobering. Alcohol remains the leading factor in motor-vehicle deaths, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group states that there are 2.6 million drunken-driving crashes each year and 4 million victims. Closer to home, metro-area law enforcement personnel in 1999 arrested 13,499 people for driving while intoxicated, says Mike Green, executive director of the Northern Virginia chapter of MADD.

MADD statistics show that last New Year's Eve saw 147 traffic fatalities nationwide half of them alcohol-related.

"Don't ruin your holiday by killing somebody else or yourself," Mr. Green says.

Responsibility is key to safe drinking, says Sam Zakhari, director of the division of basic research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Drink moderately," he advises, "which is defined as two drinks per day for a man, one for a woman."

Why should women have fewer drinks than men? The Web site www.b4udrink.org explains: "Women have less fluid in their bodies than men of the same weight, so there's less water to dilute the alcohol. So with the same amount of alcohol, women will generally feel the effects more than men."

Sponsored by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Century Council, B4udrink can be used to learn about alcohol's effects and help social drinkers imbibe more safely.

A shot of spirits, a glass of wine or a can of beer all contain approximately the same amount of alcohol and will have similar effects, according to information on the site. "But know what you're drinking," warns the site. "Malt liquor has more alcohol than beer, and some mixed drinks contain more than one shot."

The site also cautions drinkers to be aware of the legal limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) in their state. BAC is the percentage of alcohol in the blood as measured in deciliters. The District and Virginia recognize a person as legally intoxicated when the BAC is .08; in Maryland, the limit is .10.

Visitors to www.b4udrink.org can enter their vital statistics, such as height, weight and gender, and the program will determine how their BAC rises with each drink by type. By the way, says b4udrink, "Even with a lower BAC you can get arrested for drunk driving if you are driving erratically."

Mr. Zakhari says, "Drink your drinks slowly with food, and allow about two hours for each one to be metabolized. If you drink six or eight drinks, you'd better have a portable mattress."

If no portable mattress is available, an alternative exists: Call SoberRide at 800/200-TAXI. "If someone cannot get home safely, they can call that number anywhere in the metro area and get a cab ride home," Mr. Green says.

SoberRide is offered to legal-age drinkers and covers the distance of a $50 cab ride. It is available from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. through Jan. 2.

The service is offered through the Washington Regional Alcohol Program and funded by grants. More than 1,500 people called on SoberRide last year during the holiday season, says Kurt Erickson, WRAP executive director.

There is an easier way to get home: MADD stresses the importance of designated drivers.

"If one is going to indulge in alcohol, make sure at least one in every group is a designated driver who does not drink and instead drinks nonalcoholic beverages," Mr. Green says.

To get the word out, MADD has distributed nearly 85,000 red ribbons to Northern Virginians since mid-November.

"We're asking people to tie them onto their cars as a reminder that the only kind of tying on that people should do is to tie the ribbons," Mr. Green says.

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