‘Tis the Season
Now that the Christmas decorations have taken over the garden centers at our local Walmart, it is officially the holiday season. Discussion around the office has already turned to decorating, Secret Santa gifts, and the annual Christmas party. This scenario is being repeated in offices across the country.
Despite the fact that I am vice president for marketing here at HealthLynked, I am surprisingly enough, unused to office Christmas parties. Before coming to work in an actual office at HealthLynked, I worked remotely for several corporations. Before that, I worked in law-enforcement. My corporate background will lend nothing to the discussion of office Christmas parties, but my experiences as a deputy do give me some insights that are worth sharing.
A different view of office parties
My take on drunk driving is different from my coworkers–or your coworkers–I suspect. During my first year as a deputy, every night I worked in December I was sent on a call for a traffic fatality. Drunk driving, every time. Unlike most people, I’ve seen incredible devastation caused by one person, drunk beyond reasoning, careening–not really driving–in a 2000 pound automobile across yards, against traffic, and into trees. Or houses. Other cars. People. The outcome is never good.
While I look forward to the holiday season as a corporate worker, I used to dread it when I was in law enforcement. Here’s why:
First of all, many office Christmas parties take place immediately after work and end well past the hour when people are still making good decisions. Wearing inexplicable Christmas sweaters and dollar store Santa hats, workers drive from their offices to the office party. Most often this is held at a local restaurant, where they proceed to cut loose—sometimes on an epic scale! Apparently, there’s nothing like unwinding after work with your work friends to bring out behavior of unparalleled recklessness.
The biggest problem with the parties that are immediately after work is that very few people bring a spouse or significant other. This eliminates the one person who could effectively turn off the flow of alcohol to a given individual, or, barring that, act as the chauffeur for the way home.
Nobody goes to an office party with the intention of drinking too much, making a fool of him or herself, and then driving home drunk. As a deputy, however, I met many people who successfully managed the first two with ease, but fell a little short on the third. Sadly, once I met them, there was the added inconvenience of going to jail and possibly losing a driver’s license. Normally, the time immediately before the trip to jail is filled with behavior of a sort that most people would never dream their coworkers capable.
We humans have a difficult time determining just how much under the influence we are when drinking. We are even less capable when we are in the company of others who are also well past the point where good sense clouded over. Everyone’s frame of reference is sliding down the same hill, and no one seems to notice the slurred speech and loss of balance (and inhibitions) until it’s too late. Once you’re driving, believe me, it’s too late.
“I’m not too drunk to drive…”
Just about anyone can identify a very drunk driver on the roadway. So, people who are slightly intoxicated calculate that their state of drunkenness is not noticeable to anyone else. It’s possible that many civilians would not notice the telltale signs of moderately drunk driving, but I can assure you that most police officers are well trained in what to look for. We don’t miss your tires touching the fog light on the right side of the road, the excessive adjustments on relatively straight roadways, or the gradual drifting that’s corrected by hard yanks on the wheel. If you’re driving under the speed limit, we know you’re probably drinking. No one drives under the speed limit unless they are lost or tanked.
If you are to pass someone in law-enforcement, there’s a very good chance your state of inebriation will be obvious.
There’s an easy solution to this. It’s not that I’m going to tell you not to drink alcohol at your Christmas party. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of the opportunity to show off your progress with the funky chicken or Macarena. What I do suggest, however, is to work out among your coworkers which of you will be a designated driver. That person acts as mother hen (or father rooster?) to the group, makes sure no one slips away or gets lost, and pours them all into the same car at the end of the evening.
Here are some designated driver tips:
- The designated driver is not the one who drank the least. It’s the one who did not drink.
- Designated drivers should collect car keys from everyone who is not designated to drive. Drunk people try to sneak away and take themselves home. Don’t let them.
- Try not to drive with your passenger windows down. Drunk people often hang out the window and yell at passing motorists.
- Bring paper towels, Lysol spray, and some form of plastic bucket. Depending on how much people drink, all of those may be necessary.
- Get everyone’s home address before you arrive at the party. Very often, people don’t remember their home address after a few drinks.
- Do your best to make sure that everyone is seatbelted in.
- Don’t take more people in your car than your car is designed to hold. Stacking up intoxicated coworkers in your Fiat 500 may be briefly amusing, but it is not a good way to get home.
- If one of your passengers says, “I think I’m going to be sick,“ believe it. Stop immediately!
Driving in a car full of intoxicated people is, I will tell you right now, not necessarily a lot of fun. However, if you have Queen’s Greatest Hits CD on hand, playing the Bohemian Rhapsody song loudly can be incredibly entertaining when everyone sings the aria parts toward the end. Head bobbing will occur!
Remember that the designated driver is giving up a little bit of his or her fun at the party so that everyone can arrive home safely. It’s a thankless job, so remember to thank that person in advance.
Take turns as the designated driver. Unless someone is a non-drinker, it’s not fair to ask the same person to do that job over and over. Even if someone is a non-drinker, it’s still not fair to ask him to do it over and over! It’s like herding cats–often loud, obnoxious cats.
If you don’t have one, Uber can be your designated driver. I read in an article a while back that suggested they created the Uber app interface so that drunk people could use it easily. Know your audience!
Two wheels do not equal half the trouble
In case one of your coworkers has the clever idea to ride a bicycle home instead of driving a car, that can be just as disastrous. Once, I had to arrest a drunken bicyclist. I wasn’t worried so much that he was going to hurt himself–he wasn’t going fast enough to get more than a little road rash if he went off the pavement. My big concern was what would happen if he rode out in front of a vehicle and got hit, or possibly killed, through his own lack of sense. An innocent driver in that scenario is devastated, sometimes for a lifetime.
While on the subject of two wheels, I also once arrested a drunk motorcyclist. This was on New Year’s Eve, but also after a company party. I am, when totally sober, uniquely uncoordinated on motorcycles, so I was surprised at how well the cyclist was able to control his bike while moving. At a stoplight, however, he slowly tipped over, pushed the bike back up, then tipped over the other way. The fact that this person could stay upright on his motorcycle but not so well on his feet was a fascinating display of neurological compensation. I took him to jail because he was more of a danger to himself than anyone else. That year, we had five or six motorcycle fatalities within two weeks on the same stretch of road where I arrested him.
It’s the party season, so have fun! Wear your goofy holiday sweater, kick off your shoes and dance like a fool with the people from the accounting department, and sing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs. But don’t drive afterwards. Pick a designated driver, be nice to that person, and also be thankful someone was willing to put up with the inevitable shouting, laughing, and more singing on the way home.
The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Tie One On for Safety campaign started this month and runs through December 31st. MADD started their campaign in 1986 to remind everyone to not drink and drive.
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Contributing blog writer: Richard Williamson, VP of Marketing at HealthLynked.
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