As the weather warms, the evenings remain long, and we all find some time to relax and have fun, it can be difficult to remember that such idyllic scenes can be destroyed by tragedy, at home, on the road or at work.
This year we have already heard about young people losing their lives, not to mention the unreported injuries sustained as a result of accidents, often resulting from some form of impairment.
It is easy to forget that in addition to how our choices affect our own safety, we influence those around us by our actions and attitudes. How do we set the norms in society? Of course we have laws, regulations, and enforcement officers such as the police, but often more importantly we have cultural norms, family standards, peer pressure and the example of others.
So as adults, how do we set examples for younger or more impressionable individuals around us who are shaped by our actions, by our words and attitudes? Do we drink and drive, even if under the legal limit? Do we speed and take risks on the road? Do we ingest any impairing substance or medication late on the evening before going to work, or while operating machinery, or even operating a boat? Do we fill up a guest’s glass, or hand them a joint, knowing they will be driving home?
Who I am I to make such statements? No one other than a person, a parent, a physician, wondering why many of us in society do not see the risks of our actions, myself included, and do not make the changes we could to save lives, by our influence.
I grew up in Ireland, where there used to be a culture of drinking and driving. In fact, at one point the government advertisement to try to curb the problem was a slogan, “Just two will do!” This has now changed to “Never, ever drink and drive!”
What would our message set by our example be here in New Brunswick this summer? What will we say and do to influence those around us?
Unfortunately, in general, there is no completely safe level of alcohol or cannabis ingestion without increasing the risk of certain negative health consequences, but that is a different topic and one where we need to balance health risks versus quality of life.
However, when it comes to driving, operating machinery, working in safety-sensitive jobs, it is clear that for adults over 21 years, the evidence points to a period of at least six hours without drinking once the legal limit has been reached, and many more hours if over the legal limit, for the effects of alcohol to wear off; and a period of 24 hours after cannabis use, before the average person is again fully unimpaired. For younger people, under 21 years, the legal blood alcohol level is zero, reflecting the true safe limit for everyone.
It is difficult to change our behaviour, especially if we have to ‘swim upstream.’ It is time to turn the direction of accepted norms around impairment and safety.
To quote Lifesafer.ca, “No matter what your age, the only fully safe blood alcohol level for driving is zero. Any amount … makes you less able to deal with unpredictable situations, which can always arise on the road … avoid driving altogether if you’re going to drink. Use a designated driver, taxi, or public transport. And if you will be driving after having consumed alcohol, you must wait until it has left your system. That can be a long while, so don’t be impatient. The impatient people can be found in prison, in the hospital, and in the graveyard.”
Have fun this summer, and be safe.
Dr. Paul Atkinson, FRCPC
Chief Medical Officer, WorkSafeNB