Rules of the Road

Does green beer make you drunker? If not, why are St. Patrick’s Day DUI rates so high?

St Patrick’s Day concept two mug on hands green beer against wooden background
St Patrick’s Day concept two mug on hands green beer against wooden background Getty Images/iStockphoto

Question: Do you get drunker if you drink green beer?

Answer: OK, I made that question up. We all know that green beer doesn’t get you drunker than regular beer. Or does it?

We’re approaching St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that, in terms of alcohol consumption, has certainly strayed from its heritage. Depending on whose survey you believe, St. Patrick’s Day is either the second- or fourth-biggest drinking day of the year in America.

Quite a claim for a day that was originally celebrated by going to Mass and honoring St. Patrick as the founder of Christianity in Ireland in the fifth century.

But let’s get back to the green beer (one of many non-Irish things we see on March 17th) and what it has to do with traffic safety.

Nationwide, on St. Patrick’s Day, 38 percent of drivers killed in crashes had a blood alcohol limit higher than .08, and three-quarters of those were at least double that.

When we focus on post-party hours (from midnight to 6 a.m.) nearly 69 percent of crash fatalities involve an impaired driver.

Green beer has the same alcohol content as it’s amber relatives (green beer is just a light-colored beer that’s been dyed green) but if the goal of your St. Patrick’s Day celebration is to drink more than you usually do, then yes, green beer will get you drunker.

Officer George Clark talks about a St. Patrick's Day DUI emphasis patrol that took place throughout Thurston County.

Continuing on with the green theme, cannabis has begun to see an increase in use on St. Patrick’s Day — I guess because it’s green. (Again, it has nothing to do with St. Patrick.) In Washington, St. Patrick’s Day ranks third for holiday cannabis use, following April 20 (not a real holiday unless you’re a cannabis user) and New Year’s Eve.

Washington also has seen an increase in cannabis-involved traffic fatalities over the past several years. The increased use of cannabis in Washington has led to a trend shift in impaired driving.

We used to equate impaired driving with drunk driving, but as behaviors have changed we’ve had to recognize that driving high is also impaired driving. Over the past few years we’ve had a decline in alcohol-only DUI fatalities, but fatal crashes where drivers are impaired by drugs has been increasing.

Poly-drug impairment (impairment by two or more drugs) is now the most common type of impairment among drivers in fatal crashes. In Washington, 44 percent of impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for two or more substances.

Vivian McPeak, the director of HempFest, and Darrin Grondel, the director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, sat down to talk about some cannabis myths and the risks of driving high.

The most common poly-drug pairing is alcohol and cannabis. Most people who include alcohol or cannabis in their celebrations or recreation know it’s unsafe to drive after using and don’t engage in the behavior. If you happen to encounter someone who hasn’t figured that out yet, I’d encourage you to intervene to keep that person and all other road users safe.

A recent survey found that most (81 percent) Washingtonians who find themselves in a situation to intervene take steps to prevent someone from driving impaired. Intervening may mean assisting someone in calling a cab or coordinating another way to get home; in instances where a person refuses your help, it may mean calling law enforcement.

This St. Patrick’s Day extra law enforcement will be on the roads in Whatcom and Skagit counties looking for impaired drivers and available to respond if that’s the kind of intervention that’s needed.

A DUI and distracted driving demonstration was held at Ferndale High School and was a collaboration between St. Joseph Medical Center, Whatcom County Fire District 7, Washington State Patrol, Ferndale Police and Airlift Northwest.

And now, a few other St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that either aren’t Irish or not related to St. Patrick (or both):

Pinching people who don’t wear green: Apparently, leprechauns (which have nothing to do with St. Patrick) pinch everyone they see, but they can’t see people who wear green. The idea is that you’re supposed to pinch people who aren’t wearing green to remind them that they could get pinched by a leprechaun for not wearing green. I’d argue that getting pinched by a human to warn me that I might get pinched by a leprechaun is worse than the risk of getting pinched by a leprechaun because leprechauns are short and I can probably outrun them. This tradition was started in America, probably because Americans have no clue about what leprechauns really do.

Four-leaf clovers: According to legend, St. Patrick used a three-leaf shamrock as a metaphor for the Christian concept of the trinity, but four-leaf clovers are lucky, and there’s “the luck of the Irish” so the clover won out.

St. Patrick’s Day parades, corned beef, the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” Lucky Charms cereal, and the McDonalds Shamrock Shake: All from America.

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Doug Dahl, Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force, answers questions about road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices every Monday. Ask him a question using our form. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit TheWiseDrive.com.

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