Strategies for preventing drunk driving

Originally Published: January 29, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 9, 2009
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Dear Alice,

Please, I would like you to tell me some ways to prevent drunk driving after a party.

Thank you.

Dear Reader,

There are many different elements to throwing a fun, successful event. You have to invite compatible people, do something entertaining (via a theme, perhaps), and, hopefully, keep partiers feeling welcome and engaged. But one thing that often gets overlooked is what happens when it's time to go home. Concerned friends, family members, and colleagues all over the world are often faced with your very question. Keep in mind that there's more to keeping those you care about safe than just taking their keys and keeping them off the road. With some thoughtful planning, you may be able to stave off mishaps without having to pull out the sleeper sofa and serve breakfast to a hung-over crowd.

Depending on the type of social situation and setting, you may want to try different strategies. Instead of waiting until the party's over to deal with drunk driving Here are some ideas that people have used successfully:

Before a party:

  • Develop a theme for your party or event. Decorate the space and be sure to provide entertainment.
  • Set up the room so that the area where alcohol is served is not the first thing people see. You don't want the bar to be the center of attention.
  • Provide non-alcoholic drinks — enough for both underage and non-drinking attendees to have plenty of options, and display these as prominently as the alcoholic beverages.
  • Prepare lots of yummy food. A mouth-watering buffet is sure to keep people's attention and support efforts toward moderate and responsible alcohol consumtion. Especially good options are snacks high in protein and carbohydrates, such as cheese and crackers, chips and guacamole, or buffalo wings. Avoid serving too many salty snacks though, as these tend to make people thirsty.
  • Always measure the amount of alcohol put into punches and mixed drinks.
  • Using smaller cups helps people keep their alcohol servings to an appropriate size. Each drink should contain no more than 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol. In general, this means 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or one mixed drink with 1-1/2 oz of liquor.

During a party:

  • You may want to collect keys or encourage some of your guests to designate drivers who won't drink any alcohol. Remember that even one drink can impair motor skills and judgment, the two things needed most to drive safely.
  • Respect party attendees who choose not to drink alcohol.
  • Avoid drinking games. This will help to cut down on rapid and over consumption.
  • When serving drinks, pace your friends to one drink per hour, and encourage them to drink non-alcoholic beverages in between (this can, sometimes, help prevent hangovers).
  • Have a reliable friend or family member, or a hired professional, serve the drinks. This will discourage your guests from mixing their own, and help keep track of the size and number of drinks they consume.
  • Don't feel pressured to serve anyone who has already had enough to drink.
  • Plan to stop serving alcohol about 90 minutes before the party ends. This will give your party-goers some time to process the alcohol they have consumed before they go off into the night.

After a party:

  • Try to speak to each of your guests before they leave the party. Trust your instincts — if you think someone is ill-equipped to drive, call a cab and pay for it yourself, arrange a ride with a friend, drive her/him home yourself, or encourage her/him to stay over.
  • Many towns and college campuses offer free escort services or provide free shuttle buses or safe rides. Contact your police or security department, high school or college health office, or town department of education for more information. These programs are created to keep people alive, not to punish drinkers.
  • When holding a party at a hotel or other banquet facility, arrange for reduced-rate or complimentary rooms for guests. This will encourage them to stay over, rather than drive home while intoxicated. You could also arrange for taxi, limousine, or shuttle-bus service both to and from the party. Advertise this service in party invitations.

Helping your friends get home safely is like the buddy system we learned in kindergarten — holding hands (so to speak) and looking out for one another. Asking a friend not to drive home can be hard — maybe you are afraid you'll be teased, excluded from future parties, or cause your friend to be angry with you. Sometimes, people do react this way, especially if they feel you are questioning their choices. But in the long run, they are likely to appreciate your caring and clear concern for their well-being.

Try out some of these suggestions and see how they work. You can also talk with your friends about your concerns and develop a safe plan before you drink any alcohol. Cheers to a safe and fun party!