It wasn’t a standard drunk driving accident that seriously injured a young mother and her two-year-old daughter this month in Riverside, Illinois. It was a hit-and-run driver who was allegedly under the influence of both alcohol and heroin.
The man driving hit the car that the pair were in and then fled the scene, ultimately causing a second car accident nearby. It was at the second accident that police found him. According to reports, he was incoherent and nonresponsive when officers ordered him to turn off his car.
The man faces multiple charges, including felony aggravated DUI, drugged driving, heroin possession, and driving without a valid driver’s license. According to records, this was far from the first offense for the driver. He was previously convicted on DUI charges in 1979, 1999, and 2000 in three different states, including Illinois.
Driving Under the Influence Is Deadly
Between 2003 and 2012, almost 4,000 people died in Illinois due to drunk driving accidents. This does not include the number of people who were killed due to car crashes caused by drugged driving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC also reports that more than 2 percent of people surveyed in Illinois say that they drive after drinking too much, higher than the national average.
During the holiday season especially, the rates of people on the road while under the influence are significantly higher than other times of the year — and it’s not just New Year’s Eve. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the deadliest holidays due to DUI because so many people drink while with family. They think nothing of getting behind the wheel to drive to the next house to visit and spend time with people, even if they are a little too intoxicated to do so safely.
Don’t Become a Statistic
Though you cannot control the choices of others or know who on the road is driving while under the influence, you can take measures to ensure that you are not:
- Under the influence when you are driving.
- Riding as a passenger in a car driven by someone who is drunk or high.
You can also help to protect loved ones you are concerned may be at risk of getting behind the wheel while they are under the influence.
Protecting Yourself This Holiday Season
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid getting behind the wheel after drinking — choices that will not only save you from potentially life-altering injury or death but also protect the safety of people in the car with you and others on the road.
For example, you can:
- Designate a sober driver for the evening. A choice advocated by many groups, this one thing can make it easier for an entire group to get where they are going without putting themselves at risk. Just make sure that the person sticks to their word and doesn’t attempt to bend the rules by having “just one” or smoking marijuana instead.
- Designate yourself the sober driver. If you can’t find anyone among your friends or family to stay sober, make sure you are driving and stay sober yourself. It may not be your first choice, but taking risks could put everyone in harm’s way.
- Take public transportation. If you live in an area with public transportation, take advantage as much as possible. Many cities provide public transportation for free on New Year’s Eve and Christmas as a way to prevent drunk driving accidents.
- Get the information you need to stay safe. Download the Uber app and the Lyft app. Find out what cab companies are offering free rides and program the numbers into your phone. Get numbers for any companies available to give you a ride in the event that there is a long wait for your first choice. Make sure you have backup plans in place well before you go out to any holiday event to ensure that, if you are under the influence when you have to make a decision on how to get home, it is as easy for you as possible.
- Avoid or cut short parties that involve drugs and alcohol. There is no law requiring you to attend every holiday event to which you are invited. You also don’t have to stay for hours if you do decide to go. You have the choice to stop in, say hello to everyone, and then make an excuse and head out. You can also opt out of events that may make it hard for you to stay safe.
Protecting the People You Love from DUI
If you are concerned that a loved one will end up behind the wheel after drinking, there are some things you can do to help them avoid a DUI or fatal car accident. You can:
- Offer to be a designated driver. If they don’t have a sober ride, you can offer to come along and be a sober friend to them. If they are hoping to stay sober, you can show support by choosing not to drink so they don’t feel awkward. If they do drink or get high, you know that someone sober (you) will be behind the wheel.
- Offer to provide a sober ride. It may not be feasible (or desirable) to attend parties with your loved one or to hang out and wait for them to decide to come home, but you can offer to be on call in the event that they cannot get a cab or otherwise can’t get a sober ride home.
- Hook them up with all the resources they need to get home safely. Just like you would do for yourself if you were headed out and needed to ensure that you had a sober drive home, find out what free rides and public transportation options are available and make sure your loved one has access to all that information easily.
- Know that you cannot control their choices. Despite your best efforts, only your loved one will be able to decide how they will get home after drinking or using drugs. You can offer to assist and be available to them if they ask, but ultimately, they will make their own choices.
- Consider whether or not treatment is needed. If your loved one has a DUI, struggles with making safe choices while under the influence, and/or has no ability to stay sober for any length of time despite the best intentions, it may be time to consider treatment as the next step forward.
Connecting With Treatment
It is not always easy to suggest the idea of alcohol addiction treatment to someone you love or to ask for help when you know that it’s time for you to get treatment due to an alcohol problem. But if you or your loved one are at risk this holiday season due to drinking and driving, it’s time to make a change before the worst happens.
Though everyone is different, there are a number of different options available to you and your family when it comes to alcohol treatment. Depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder, the existence or not of co-occurring mental health issues, and physical dependence on any substance including alcohol, treatment will need to be chosen specifically to meet your needs.
Most people will choose from one of the following:
- DUI classes: If you or your loved one have a DUI in Illinois, you will need to take DUI classes to ensure that you understand how best to manage your legal obligations and avoid getting a DUI in the future. During the course of these classes, if it becomes clear that treatment for an alcohol use disorder is needed, you can easily transition into the right program for your needs.
- 12–step meetings: Though 12-step meetings are not treatment per se, they are free, community-based group meetings that can acquaint you with others in the community who are also struggling with staying sober. They can also give you something to do when you are trying to avoid relapse.
- Outpatient therapy: Meeting regularly with a substance abuse treatment professional and therapist can help you to better understand the nature of your addiction, how to address the problems in your life that it has caused (like relationship issues and DUIs), and what choices you will need to start making in order to make positive, long-lasting changes in your life.
- Intensive outpatient treatment: There are programs that allow you or your loved one to come into the facility for a few hours each day and return home at night, often working around your work schedule to increase feasibility. These programs often require that you take part in a certain number of hours of group therapy, personal therapy, and 12-step meetings out in the community while committing to staying sober.
Do you think that you or a loved one would benefit from support for an alcohol use disorder? Get the information you need today.