Dear Alice,

What can I say to prevent someone from drunk driving?

Dear Reader,

Kudos to you for looking out for the safety and well-being of others. Unfortunately, there are no magic words to prevent someone from driving drunk — but it’s critical to intervene when you see someone who’s intoxicated try to get behind the wheel. Read on for tips on how to manage the interaction in the moment and strategies for prevention in the future.

First, a bit about alcohol-impaired driving. In 2014, in the United States, almost 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. In more than half of these crashes, the driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than 0.08. At this level, no person in the United States may legally operate a vehicle because folks will typically experience decreased muscle coordination, decreased ability to concentrate, and impaired perception — all of which are key in operating a vehicle. If you find yourself in a situation where someone has consumed too much and you’d like to prevent them from driving, here are a few strategies that may help you manage the conversation carefully and ensure it’s a productive one:

  • If possible, talk to the individual in a quiet, private environment.
  • Try to keep the tone light, calm, and non-confrontational. Stay firm and assertive, but avoid being judgmental or aggressive.
  • It may help to remind yourself that you are talking with someone who is intoxicated. Talk slowly and clearly, and try not to become emotional. If you've also consumed alcohol, you might enlist the help of a sober friend(s).
  • Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements, such as “I'm concerned about you driving home” or “Can I help you figure out a way to get home?”
  • Provide a reason for why you are taking action. Try saying something like, “I don’t want you to get into trouble” or "I don't want you to hurt yourself or anyone else."
  • Offer options such as calling them a cab or giving them a place to crash and sleep it off. If you live in an area with public transportation, and the person is well enough to travel, encourage them to take a bus, subway, or train home. You might even offer to travel with them to make sure they get home safely. 
  • Take their keys, pretend you can’t find their keys but assure your friend that you can help them find them in the morning.
  • If absolutely nothing else works and they insist on driving, you may want to call law enforcement — this is a better option than having someone injured or killed.

While it’s not always an option, the best way to prevent someone from driving intoxicated is to be prepared ahead of time. If you’re designating drivers, it’s good to note that a designated driver is someone who is sober — rather than the ‘least drunk’ person in the room. If you’re unsure of what to do or how drunk someone is before they get behind the wheel, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Creating a responsible environment can also help set the tone for lower-risk drinking, reduce the likelihood of impaired driving, and maximize the fun while minimizing the risk. Whether you’re preparing to be a hospitable host or a gracious guest, reading Strategies for preventing drunk driving may help you set the tone for safety at your next get-together.

Lastly, if you’re concerned about your friend’s relationship with alcohol — you recognize a pattern of negative consequences associated with their drinking — you may find it helpful to refer them to a mental health professional or a substance abuse professional. Finding a private place and talking with your friend when you’re both sober are just some of the tips in starting this conversation. For more information, check out Friend of an alcohol abuser in the Help & Getting Help section of the Go Ask Alice! archive.

Hope this helps you assist others in getting home in a smart, safe, and responsible way!

Alice!

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