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An alcohol-related motor vehicle crash kills someone every two minutes. Nearly three-quarters of drivers convicted of driving while impaired are either frequent heavy drinkers (alcohol abusers) or alcoholics (alcohol dependent). Alcohol involvement was reported in 45 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities last year. Of the pedestrians involved, 29.5 percent were intoxicated. Younger drivers are especially at risk. The highest rates of intoxication in fatal crashes were recorded for drivers 21-24 years old (27 percent), followed by 25-34 years old (24 percent), and 33-44 years old (21 percent).

A person who gets behind the wheel after consuming alcohol is not only endangering his or her own life, but also the lives of any passengers in the vehicle and the lives of other people in the vicinity of his vehicle. Impaired driving is preventable. The greatest holiday gift you may be able to give this season may be a ride home or to adhere to any of the following suggestions.

> When guests arrive, collect their car keys. Then, when they are ready to leave, they must get a second opinion on whether they are sober enough to drive home.

> If you serve alcoholic punch, use a non-carbonated base such as fruit juice. The body absorbs alcohol faster when mixed with carbonation.

> Serve non-alcoholic beverages; it is possible some of the guest may not want to drink alcohol.

> Always serve food with alcohol. High protein and carbohydrate foods like cheese and meats are especially good because they stay in the stomach much longer, which slows the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol.

> Do not force drinks on your guests or rush to refill their glasses when empty. Some guests may not wish to appear rude and will accept drinks they do not want.

> Stop serving alcohol about two hours before the party is over. Guests then have time for their bodies to absorb the alcohol consumed.

>If you observe a guest drinking too much, engage him or her in conversation.

>If a guest has been drinking too much and should not drive and you have his car key, don't give it back to him so that he can drive. Perhaps a little persuasion from you could mean the difference between life and death.

>Have a sober guest drive an alcohol-impaired guest home.

>Have an alcohol-impaired guest taken home in a taxi

>Suggest that your impaired guest stay overnight in your home. Whatever you do, do not give in. Friends do not let friend's drink and drive.

The best defense against a drunk driver is to wear your seat belt and be sure children are properly secured in child safety seats. Never ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking - call a cab or ask a friend to drive you home. Support measures to strengthen drunk driving prevention and victims by contacting elected officials in your home area. Sadly, the numbers of people killed by drunk drivers has continued to increase over the past two years.

Recently in this area, there have been several teenage drinking and driving accidents which has resulted in the death of young people. The majority of these deaths have occurred on a Friday or Saturday nights. Parents need to warn kids that they are not infallible. According to the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, alcohol is the most commonly used drug among America's youth.

Unfortunately, underage drinking seems to grab our attention and focus only when our children die or are harmed due to alcohol-related collisions.

Editor's note: Dorothy Lopez, RN, works in health promotions at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center.

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