New Year booze warning: the first steps you take in 2012 could be your last

It's an easy walk home from here - but what are the risks?

Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

And Alf has been blissfully ignorant for decades about the dangers he has faced each time he walked home from the Eketahuna Club.

Now he knows all about these dangers, he is keen to apprise his constituents of them.

They are much greater – he is sure – than they ever imagined.

And the warning is timely, because January 1 – Alf has learned – is the deadliest day of the year for pedestrians.

An American economist, Steve Levitt, has compared the risk of drunk walking with drunk driving and found that the former can potentially pose a greater risk.

By Levitt’s reckoning, walking a mile from a party to your home makes the prospect of your premature demise eight times more likely than driving your car the same mile.

We all know (or should know) that driving drunk is a high-risk activity: it’s incredibly dangerous and produces massive collateral damage.

But on the strength of this Levitt feller’s studies, if you drink too much over the holiday period and think you’ll do the smart thing by walking home — then think again.

LEVITT: For every mile walked drunk, turns out to be eight times more dangerous than the mile driven drunk. To put it simply, if you need to walk a mile from a party to your home, you’re eight times more likely to die doing that than if you jump behind the wheel and drive your car that same mile.

Let’s be clear here that Levitt is not advocating driving drunk instead of walking drunk.

His point is that we should look harder at the numbers behind drunk walking.

His data come from the US, of course, and may not have much relevance to Alf’s experience in Eketahuna. But –

In 2009, the most recent year for which we have data, about 34,000 people died in traffic accidents. Roughly half of them were drivers — 41 percent of whom were drunk. There were more than 4,000 pedestrians killed — and 35 percent of them were drunk.

The item cited by Alf recognises, of course, that a drunk walker can’t hurt or kill someone else as a drunk driver can, and people drive drunk much greater distances than they’d walk drunk.

But the danger is hardly insignificant, says trauma surgeon Thomas Esposito.

His hospital, Loyola University Health System, outside of Chicago, consistently sees a spike in patients who have been struck by cars during this time of year:

ESPOSITO: I’d rather work New Year’s Eve than New Year’s Day. Because a lot of the time on New Year’s Day, that’s when people start to realize someone’s missing, where are they? And then they find them on the bottom of the stairs or the side of the road, injured.

The annual spike at Loyola mirrors nationwide trends.

January 1 is the deadliest day for pedestrians, according to a report by the journal Injury Prevention.

Levitt and his colleagues are aware – by the way – that their analysis will be challenged on the grounds they are comparing the rate of death per mile driven drunk versus the rate of death per mile walked drunk.

They address the criticism here, then stick to their guns and say the per-mile comparison is the most sensible one.

They also say it is nonsense to claim they are condoning drunk driving.

Nope. Their research shows that drunk drivers are 13 times as likely to cause a fatal crash and they end by telling people to take a cab.

But is taking a cab the right thing to do?

They have done their sums on that issue, too.

The results are fascinating but are irrelevant in Eketahuna North, because we have no taxi service.

What to do?

Alf has been deliberating for some time and – selfless bloke that he is – has opted to continue walking home.

Yep. He now knows this is much risker to him (potentially) than driving home. But the prospects of other people being harmed by his walking home are much less than if he drove home.

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