Drunken driving takes especially deadly toll during the holidays

Threat even greater for LGBTs, who have higher rates of alcohol abuse

Momentum is building for the last blast of the 2011 holiday season, but not everyone should count on waking up safe and sound in their own bed on New Year’s Day with the traditional celebratory hangover.

The more fortunate partygoers will find themselves on an old friend’s sofa, in bed with a new friend or even in a jail cell with a bunch of strangers. But the less lucky won’t be waking up at all because they will be part of the year’s statistics on impaired driving fatalities.

That’s why U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he kicked off a nationwide crackdown on impaired driving on Dec. 13 in an attempt to remind Americans they risk killing others or themselves if they get behind the wheel drunk or stoned.

Impaired driving fatality statistics for 2010 released by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed a decrease in many states in comparison to the previous year, but 10,228, or one-third, of the fatalities on American highways still involved intoxication.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

The fatality statistics spiked during the second half of December, when drinking traditionally becomes more prevalent apparently because of holiday parties. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 40 percent of traffic deaths during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays involved drunken driving.

The risk increases during the holidays because it is a time when many people uncharacteristically drink to excess and take on one of the characteristics of what is known as hardcore drunken driving.

Hardcore drunken driving refers to anyone who gets behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol account of 0.15 or above, does so repeatedly and is resistant to changing that behavior. For the past decade, fatality statistics show that 70 percent of impaired drivers responsible for the deaths had a blood-alcohol account of 0.15 or higher.

It is an issue of particular concern to the LGBT community because many studies have shown a high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among its members.

In connection with the national anti-drunken driving campaign that carries the slogan, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” alcohol awareness educators are warning revelers to understand how beer, wine and liquor affect the human body.  Many occasional and frequent drinkers apparently harbor misconceptions about the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol impairs coordination, driving skills, reflex time and judgment long before the drinker or anyone else notices signs of intoxication, and it can spark aggression that makes the driver more dangerous on the road.

Even after an individual quits drinking, alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream and affect the brain for hours. Coffee or other caffeine drinks do not reduce the effects of alcohol and do not make the impaired driver any safer. Only time can counteract the detrimental effects of alcohol.

Educators advise party-goers to take a cab or to designate someone to drive who isn’t drinking. Otherwise, anyone planning to get behind the wheel should not have any more than one alcoholic drink per hour, and it would be a good idea for every other drink to be nonalcoholic.

No one should rely on someone else to monitor and take care of then on New Year’s Eve or any other holiday party. No matter whether the reveler is at a private party or a nightclub, the person in charge may be far too busy to notice the drinker is impaired.

The bottom line is that many citizens who typically would not dream of breaking the law risk doing exactly that if they drink to excess and try to drive themselves home. The legal limit is 0.08 in most states these days, and that only amounts to two or three drinks for many people.

Others who have problems with alcohol and other drugs should seek help before they get behind the wheel again and risk the lives of themselves and others.

Anyone who drives drunk this New Year’s Eve risks getting arrested, being jailed, bonding out of jail, hiring a lawyer, going to court, possibly going back to jail, serving probation and making huge financial expenditures. It is estimated that a drunken driving charge costs about $20,000 when all of the expenses — including increased insurance costs —are tallied.

That is the risk if the drunken driver is lucky and doesn’t have an accident resulting in an injury or fatality. In a worse-case scenario, there won’t ever never be an end to the anguish and devastation affecting everyone involved.

That’s cause enough not to ever go there in the first place.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has reported on LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DFW’s homeless gays heading north to Denton, advocate says

HUD housing intervention counselor Michael Raven says what has traditionally been considered an urban issue is growing in rural areas

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Michael Raven

HUD housing intervention counselor Michael C. Raven, says he has seen an increase in the number clients who are gay and homeless moving into Denton.

Raven serves as secretary for HOPE, Inc., which provides financial assistance and case management to families who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless and seeking to secure permanent housing.

Before coming to HOPE, which is non-faith-based, Raven worked for the Salvation Army.

Rven said that compared to Dallas, homeless numbers in Denton are low. The latest count is 103 people in the city of Denton and 547 in the county. Homelessness is more of a rural problem in Denton County, he said, and many of the county’s homeless live in tents in the woods.

Raven, who is himself gay, said the biggest problem he has seen with gay homelessness in Denton County is that the Salvation Army provides Denton’s only shelter — and that organization does not welcome gays or lesbians.

“It takes awhile to get someone off the street and into affordable housing,” Raven said. “We give them three years to graduate into self-sufficiency.”

Raven follows everyone who contacts his office.

“With housing counseling, we hope they’ll have a surplus each month,” he said.

The goal is to get them into transitional housing and then something permanent.

Among the many reasons for homelessness are mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse and family violence. But unemployment is the top reason for homelessness currently in Denton.

Of those who reported a cause, 20 percent said loss of a job and another 15 percent were “unable to pay rent or mortgage,” mostly related to employment issues.

Not everyone who is homeless was without work, Raven said, but some may be working at a much lower-paying job or only finding part-time work.

Raven said he has notes about available jobs all over his office and is constantly checking a number of sources. If he knows a client has a particular skill, he tries to make the connection.

But he said employers are terrible about taking advantage of the homeless.

Raven cited one case of a client with a degree in accounting. A retail store didn’t have an accounting position open, but hired her as a cashier and taught her the accounting process for their business at the same time. After four months, she was doing most of the store’s accounting work but was still being paid as a cashier.

A major retailer hired another of his clients. When they found out that she had a degree, which required a higher salary by their own company rules, they fired her, Raven said.

Once every two years, Denton counts its homeless population. Raven is part of that counting process, which will start after the New Year.

He said he doesn’t like to just show up and take census figures, so he asks his HOPE donors for personal care items and blankets to distribute on counting night.

While usually associated with urban areas, Raven said homelessness is increasing in rural areas.

During the recession, he’s noticed that everyone’s watching their money. But he thinks that people are just being more prudent because homelessness could happen to anyone.

Contact HOPE at 940-380-0513.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens