Yes, you’ve heard this before.
But you haven’t heard this: The average number of deaths from alcohol-related crashes on New Year’s Day is dramatically higher — more than 150 percent higher — than the average for the same day of previous holiday weeks, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety contends.
What’s more, this year’s holiday — with the party-laden New Year’s Eve coming today, on a Friday — is a worst-case scenario for police and those who campaign against the blight that is driving under the influence.
Those statistics, which the AAA Foundation released earlier this week, make a clear case for the use of designated drivers and steel-strong laws against repeat DUI offenders.
Combined with data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, they paint a picture of a nation that has not been able to effectively reduce this needless, cowardly practice to a more acceptable level. If ever this was a pressing issue, this weekend’s New Year’s Day holiday is the time.
That data provide harsh reminders. In 2009, 10,839 people were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes in the United States. That’s nearly one-third — 32 percent — of all U.S. traffic fatalities.
Fourteen percent of children who died in traffic accidents last year — 181 kids — died in wrecks that involved drunk drivers. Slightly more than half of those were passengers in cars driven by someone who was legally drunk.
On average, a drunk-driving fatality happened every 48 minutes in 2009.
That’s truly sobering stuff. Remember that this weekend.
The encouraging part of this depressing saga is that alcohol-related crashes in the United States are declining. They decreased by 7.4 percent from 2008 to 2009; the total number — but not the percentages — of drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes has decreased over a 10-year period, as well. Those trends show that anti-drunk driving campaigns and law enforcement efforts are slowly changing Americans’ habits about getting behind the wheel while drunk.
But it isn’t changing them fast enough.
This week’s AAA Foundation report unveiled the ugly truth about the current state of drunk driving in America: 1 in 10 drivers who the foundation surveyed said they had driven while likely drunk during the past year. Of those, more than half said they had driven while likely drunk more than once during the past year. And statistics prove that repeat violators of DUI laws remain one of this problem’s biggest issues.
There is no way to overstate the necessity to combat DUI offenses with the strictest of laws. But what has to happen is a continued, and strengthened, effort to preach the evil of driving while impaired. It’s deadly. It can kill.
This holiday weekend is a perfect time for Alabamians to make that promise. Say it out loud: If I drink, I won’t drive drunk in 2011. It has a nice ring to it.