Beware of heightened drunk driving dangers this New Year’s Eve

Consumer Reports News: December 30, 2010 11:08 AM

With New Year’s Eve falling on a weekend this year, it is likely that there will be even more parties and festivities with alcohol—which could turn celebrations sour or even deadly.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally one of the worst days of the year for alcohol-related car crashes and deaths. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has just released a new study that looked at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) data on alcohol-related fatalities for 2000-2009. It found that on New Year’s Day, alcohol-related deaths due to crashes were 150 percent higher than average for the same day of the week during the holiday season.

The study also surveyed drivers, and found that nine out of 10 drivers view drinking and driving as a serious threat to their personal safety. In addition, nine out of 10 people support the use of an alcohol-ignition interlock (a device that prevents a car from starting if it detects alcohol on the driver’s breath) for convicted DWI offenders.

NHTSA recently highlighted a new initiative called “No Refusal” that allows law enforcement to quickly obtain warrants from on-call judges to take blood samples for people who refuse a breathalyzer test. A few states are currently employing these methods to help curb drunk driving, including Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and Utah.

In 2009, over 10,800 people were killed in drunk driving crashes, with 735 of those fatalities occurring in December. The annual “Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest” campaign is currently in full swing through Jan. 3rd. Police will be out in force this holiday season to pull over and ticket offenders.

Don’t let the New Year start off deadly for you, your family, and your friends. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you head out to ring in 2011.

  • Have a designated driver. If you plan on traveling to a party, make sure you have a driver who will stay sober and be responsible for taking everyone home safely.
  • Drop your keys. If you don’t have a designated driver, give someone your keys so you aren’t tempted to get into the car after drinking.
  • Pack a bag. If you plan to party hard and/or late, bring an overnight bag so that you are prepared to sleep over until you are sober and alert enough to drive home. In fact, make it part of your plans and everyone will sleep better.
  • Use public transportation. Most cities with public transportation systems will have more buses and trains running throughout New Year’s Eve to help party-goers get home safely.
  • Walking isn’t safer. You aren’t necessarily safer if you decide to hoof it after a few drinks instead of getting behind the wheel. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the first day of the New Year has the highest amount of pedestrians killed than any other day throughout the year. If you must walk, go in a group and wear visible clothing, so that drivers can see you.
  • Know where your children are. We’ve all heard that TV ad that says: “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?” Make sure you keep tabs on your children if they are going to be out with friends this New Year’s. Coordinate with other parents to transport children home from parties and make sure they know the rules on drinking and driving.
  • Coffee isn’t the cure. It’s a myth that coffee can help sober you up. Only time can do that, so stay put until you recover.

Have a happy and safe New Year.

Liza Barth

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