ne of the deadliest holiday periods for motor vehicle drivers and passengers is rapidly approaching. The Fourth of July is second only to New Year's among holidays for the number of crashes and fatalities on the roadways of the United States.
Not surprisingly, many of those fatality crashes involve a driver with a blood alcohol concentration over .08. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 523 fatalities were recorded during the Fourth of July holiday period in 2004, and that 225 of those had a driver, motorcycle operator, or non-occupant with a .08 or higher BAC.
Enforce Impaired Driving Laws Aggressively
With those numbers in mind, law enforcement has an opportunity to save lives this Fourth of July through education and enforcement. Plan now for stepped-up enforcement throughout the holiday, and begin getting the word out that impaired drivers will be arrested to make your roadways safer.
Make officers aware of the magnitude of the problem during the holiday and direct them to be more proactive in their alcohol enforcement. Consider deploying specialized patrols, DWI checkpoints, or even a multijurisdictional task force?
Educate Motorists about Seat Belts and Impaired Driving
Communicate with the public your agency's intent to do its part to save lives by enforcing safety belt and impaired driving laws and encouraging motorcyclists to wear helmets. There are plenty of facts available to share on this topic. Estimates are that 55 percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed last year were not wearing safety belts. When the final numbers are in for 2005, it's likely that we will see a slight increase in the number of impaired driving fatalities, a 4 percent decrease in injuries, and, for the eighth year in a row, an increase in motorcycle fatalities.
Inform the Public of the Cost of Police Response to Crashes
An astounding fact that garners little attention is the cost of crashes to each of us. NHTSA has placed the cost to society of traffic crashes at $230.6 billion a year. That works out to about $820 per person.
You can localize cost figures somewhat by estimating for the public what it costs your department to respond to traffic crashes each year. Be sure to calculate the cost of time officers spend responding, at the scene, at the hospital, and writing the report. Add to that figure the cost of supervisor time to review the report, and clerical staff time to enter, file, and transmit data to the state. Factor in wear and tear on your vehicles. Don't forget the local costs involved with fire and EMS response as well.
Share These Pointers from NHTSA
Encourage citizens to think ahead about their plans to celebrate when alcohol will be involved. NHTSA offers these tips for you to use in community presentations or press releases to help prevent drunken driving tragedies:
- Whenever you plan on using alcohol, designate your sober driver before going out and give that person your keys.
- If you're impaired, call a taxi, use mass transit, or call a sober friend or family member to get you home safely.
- If available, use your community's sober rides program.
- Promptly report drunk drivers you see on the roadways to law enforcement.
- Wear your safety belt or using protective gear on your motorcycle.
- While traveling to and from celebrations on your motorcycle, remember to make yourself visible and ride your motorcycle where you can be seen.
- And remember, friends don't let friends drive drunk. If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.
Remind Partygoers of the Dangers of Driving Buzzed
Now would also be a great time to take advantage of a new campaign initiated by NHTSA and the Ad Council: Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving. Launched a few months ago, this media campaign aims at those who feel they are moderate drinkers and think they only get buzzed, when they are in fact too impaired to be driving.
The campaign is designed to reach men ages 21-34. Data indicate that drivers in this demographic accounted for 59 percent of alcohol-related fatalities in 2004. Local stations should have received the public service announcements. You can view them at (www.adcouncil.org/).
Focus Your Efforts on Safety Belts, Helmets, and Sober Driving
In a recent press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta identified the key messages for motorists: use safety belts, wear motorcycle helmets, and drive sober.
"Every year this country experiences a national tragedy that is as preventable as it is devastating," said Mineta. "We have the tools to prevent this tragedy. Every car has a safety belt, every motorcycle rider should have a helmet, and everyone should have enough sense to never drive while impaired." ■