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Drink at night, drive in the morning? Bad idea

It's the most wonderful time of the year. A time for awkward corporate Christmas parties held at chain restaurants and boutique bars or warm tension-infused get-togethers with friends and family. The halls will be decked in green, red and gold. Sad fake Christmas trees will sparkle. Cheese-stuffed phyllo pastries will proliferate. The wine will be boxed. The bars, cash.

Beneath the cheerful surface, grudges, both petty and great, will simmer. Most revellers will maintain a semblance of composure. Yet alcohol will flow. One or two will get smashed and commit some form of career-impeding or familial-bond breaking indiscretion. At some point, they'll all go home. Then they'll get up. Their heads will hurt. Their mouths will be dry. Their stomachs will be uneven. As the great Canadian band Max Webster sang, "Cold morning and the drums, blue eyes in the window sun, Alka Seltzer, Tang and a 50, it's all over – hangover."

And it would all be okay (though spiritually dismaying), except for the fact that many of these poor souls will wake up, down a coffee and get behind the wheel of a car, with remorse riding shotgun. Technically, they're not drunk but practically, they're impaired. They'll be out on the roads just a blink or a swerve away from hurting somebody.

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Scientific research, released at the Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs Conference in Brisbane, Australia, shows what drinkers have suspected for years – that driving hungover, while not as egregious as driving drunk, has substantial risks. Joris Verster, a professor of psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, studied the driving of 47 subjects who'd consumed 10 drinks in the evening and hit the road the following morning. While their blood alcohol levels were at zero, they were suffering. The results were sobering.

"Driving was much worse during the alcohol hangover," Verster told Australia's ABC News. "And when we compare it to other results from previous studies, we see that driving is actually as bad as if you were intoxicated to the level of 0.05, the legal limit."

A 2009 study of hungover drivers conducted at Brunel University in England found similar results. Those suffering the after-effects of a bender committed double the driving infractions.

Hangovers affect people differently. For most, it's a self-inflicted hell with varying symptoms. Verster notes that when it comes to driving, concentration and alertness are reduced. You can see this manifest itself most Saturday and Sunday mornings. Some of the worst stunts committed on four wheels occur during this time. It's as if all the people who were responsible enough not to drive drunk at night come to and decide to drive like drunks the following morning.

The skeptics out there will cry foul. Now it's uncool to drive hungover? Just when aren't we impaired? It's not only mobile devices that are distracting drivers, they're distracted by passengers, by the scenery and their own thoughts. We've been hit recently by numerous studies showing that driving while drowsy is dangerous, as is driving while angry, depressed or any other state than "blissed out." If you go by the studies, the only time we should be driving is after we've had a full eight hours of sleep, a cup of herbal tea, our chakras aligned, and are feeling bright and optimistic. If we followed this edict, at least we'd cure congestion – there would be no one on the road.

It comes down to responsibility.

So this is Christmas. You want to drink beer. Go ahead. Just don't drive drunk. And if you have a screaming hangover, don't get behind the wheel either. Acknowledge that driving requires skill and responsibility and you understand that alcohol and drugs (even seemingly small amounts) impair you. Take a cab, bus, train, walk, or get a stranger to give you a piggyback ride.

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What's the worst that could happen? If you miss work you might get fired, but hey, you're getting hammered the night before you have to be in the office, so maybe you hate your job. Maybe that's not the worst thing that can happen.

Celebrate. It's the holiday season. Just don't take a holiday from common sense. If you drink – don't drive. And if you're hungover, go back to bed or, if you're feeling energetic, crawl to the couch and put the television on – there has to be a Storage Wars marathon running somewhere.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More

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