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Golden Hour

Drink, drive and die…merrily


On the night of December 31, even as a new year lay in labour, ready for birth, hundreds of people died on roads all across the country, because they chose to drive after drinking. Under the heady influence of countless gallons of rum, whisky, gin and so on, these people had partied hard to welcome a year that they would never live to see, all because of an act that defies logic and leads to a one-way road to disaster. And so, in this week dedicated to road safety, come as it does in the shadow of yet another deathly New Year-eve, if there is one pledge you certainly must take then it is to never drive in a drunken state; doing so is a singularly stupid and irresponsible act—the sort of risk a sober mind would never imagine taking.

According to the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2013 as many as 1.24 million die every year in road accidents. It is further estimated that a staggering 38 per cent of these deaths happen owing to drunken driving: that is nearly 5,00,000 people die every year in crashes that can be directly attributed to alcohol. The report notes that 90% of these fatalities happen in middle-income countrieslike India, where awareness regarding the perils of drunk driving is still elementary.

Road accidents in India killed nearly 100,000 people in 2012 – that works out to a shocking average of 274 casualties a day. Bangalore (a city famous for its pub and party culture) contributed to 5 per cent of these deaths. With India’s road networks expanding in step with a growing number of speedy vehicles, these stats are set to only get worse unless we as a people choose to put a collective brake on irresponsible driving. Although exact data is hard to come by, a study by Alcohol & Drug Information Centre (AIDC) says that around 40% of road accidents in India are owing to alcohol—which is even higher than the global average.

Regardless of which spirit you consume before driving (and that includes beer), the risk of ending up in a road crash increases significantly with every sip. Scientific research has proved irrefutably that even low levels of alcohol are enough to damageyour driving skills and put you to unacceptable risk.

Since, alcohol does not require digestion it is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream and starts messing up your brain almost immediately after consumption, though the signs of its affect might not sometimes be obvious. It is equally clear that under the influence of booze a driver tends to get over-confident, take extra risks, becomes more aggressive and needs a longer time to react. The risk of a crash with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level as low as 0.04gm/dl is as much as 140 times the risk relative to zero BAC.

Most of us are familiar with the more overt signs of heavy drinking: the stumbling walk, slurred speech and memory lapses. The fact is that people behave clumsily after imbibing varying quantities of alcohol because drinking interferes seriously with their balance, judgment and coordination. Most importantly, it retards their reflexes, which is why drinking before driving is virtually suicidal.

Alcohol affects brain chemistry by altering the levels of neurotransmitters—chemical messengers that transmit signals originating in the brain throughout the body and control thought processes, behaviour and emotion. Neurotransmitters are either excitatory, meaning that they rev up the brain’s electrical activity, or inhibitory, meaning that they suppress its electrical activity. Alcohol increases the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA, causing sluggish movements and slurred speech, and alongside it inhibits the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which causes a physiological slowdown.

In addition to increasing the GABA and decreasing the glutamate in the brain, alcohol increases the amount of the chemical dopamine in the brain’s reward centre, which creates the feeling of pleasure that occurs while drinking.What is beyond doubt is that all kinds of booze and every type of alcohol act as a depressant and this slows down the activity of the brain. Alcohol consumption leads to poor judgement, unfounded overconfidence, slow reaction time, lower vigilance and decreased visual acuity also. In other words, it is a recipe for disaster. So, if you really care for your life and have the slightest concern for those who love you, say a firm no to driving after a drink today.

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