Officials deliver message: Don't drink, drive tonight

New Year's Eve: A demonstration in Towson drives home the importance of staying sober behind the wheel.

December 31, 2004|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Michael M. Gimbel had no problem navigating the widely spaced orange cones while driving the small utility cart.

But once he put on the "fatal vision glasses," the cart's small but erratically moving wheels crunched the cones and knocked them around.

"There was a big difference in perception," Gimbel said. "My ability was way off."

The purpose of the demonstration at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Towson yesterday was to remind the public of the dangers of drinking and driving.

The "fatal vision glasses" are designed to distort peripheral vision, reduce depth perception and blur vision to simulate the effects of having a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, said Gimbel, director of Sheppard Pratt's Office of Substance Abuse Education.

The demonstration, put on by the office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was timed to get the message out before New Year's Eve.

"We know people are going to party, and we know people are going to drink," Gimbel said. "We just hope they do it responsibly."

Nancy Kelly, public policy liaison for MADD Maryland, said 281 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in the state last year. Thirty-three of them, she said, were killed from Thanksgiving to New Year's.

"Some people say drinking and driving is a momentary lapse of good judgment, but it isn't," Kelly said. "It's a conscious decision, a violent crime that kills 17,000 people in this country every year."

Gimbel said drinkers and nondrinkers can do several things to avoid alcohol-related accidents.

Those who are drinking should not drink on an empty stomach, but they should avoid salty snacks, which tend to make people thirsty and drink more.

Gimbel also said alcohol should be mixed with noncarbonated drinks because carbonation helps the body absorb the alcohol more quickly. He added it's important for people to remember that beer and wine can be as intoxicating as hard liquor.

He said he hopes to dispel many common myths about drinking. People who drink might feel that their tolerance is higher, Gimbel said. He agreed that frequent drinkers might not show the effects of alcohol as much as others but said they still would fail a blood-alcohol test.

Two of the biggest myths, he said, are that drinking coffee or taking a shower can help someone sober up.

"Coffee is a stimulant, but what it gives you is a wide-awake drunk. Put them in the shower and you get a wet drunk," Gimbel said. "There is no magic thing to make someone sober."

The best thing to do, he said, is to let the person sleep it off. Party hosts should take car keys and be prepared to arrange rides or allow guests to spend the night.

And no one should serve alcoholic beverages to anyone younger than 21, Gimbel said.

Kelly's advice for holiday imbibing is simple: "If you're going to drink, don't drive. If you're going to drive, don't drink."

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