Nearly 10,000 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes last year, including 395 that happened during the second half of December.
“It just seems there are more people drinking and driving during the holidays than other times,” Town Creek Police Chief Jerry Garrett said. “With New Year’s being a four-day weekend, I’m sure there will be people on the roadways that are too impaired to be driving.”
Local departments and state troopers will be out in force during the New Year’s holiday period.
“The holiday season can be an especially dangerous time on our nation’s roadways due to drunk drivers,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “Our message is simple: drive sober or get pulled over.”
The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is spearheading the New Year’s traffic safety efforts. In 2011, 9,878 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes, according to national highway safety officials. That number was lower than in 2010, when 10,136 people were killed in drunk-driving accidents.
“Hopefully, this means people are getting the message,” said Eddie Russell, program coordinator for the North Alabama Highway Safety Office in Tuscumbia.
Russell said the problem usually stems from drivers who have been drinking but think they are capable of driving.
“They’re not (capable), but they still get behind the wheel of the car,” Russell said. “That’s nothing but a recipe for disaster.”
According to a recent analysis by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, during the last decade, the highest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities occur on New Year’s Day. That’s one reason AAA Alabama and wrecker services across the state will again offer their Tow-for-Life program.
AAA Alabama spokesman Clay Ingram said the program provides free towing services to keep impaired drivers off the road. The program begins at 6 p.m. Monday and continues until 6 a.m. New Year’s Day. This is the 26th year for the program, Ingram said.
“AAA does not condone drinking and driving, and encourages all motorists to act responsibly to keep drunk drivers off the road throughout the holidays,” Ingram said. “We want to raise awareness and encourage people to plan ahead when going out on New Year’s Eve.”
Ingram said drivers who are impaired with too much drink may call 800-AAA-HELP.
Garrett said no one is trying to stop a New Year’s celebration.
“We want people to have a good time, but we just ask them to be careful so they can celebrate other holidays in 2013, and not let this one be their last one,” Russell said.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.
Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA-Alabama.