published Friday, December 30th, 2011

Have a safe and sober holiday

For many people, the New Year's holiday is a fun time, one marked by revelry that often takes the form of parties and other gatherings at commercial venues as well as in more private settings. Unfortunately, the rites marking the turning of the calendar are a time when many individuals throw caution to the wind, drink too much and then get behind the wheel. The result is utterly predictable. The number of DUIs and alcohol-fueled accidents and related deaths and injuries is far higher during a holiday than a similar nonholiday period.

That is why public safety and law enforcement officials and advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers work diligently at holiday time to warn anyone who will listen about the dangers of driving under the influence. Those messages should be heeded. That's especially true this year, when an extended four-day New Year's holiday provides additional opportunity for the careless and thoughtless to imbibe and drive.

If history is a guide, many of those celebrants will use the additional time to party longer and to drink more before heading for home. Such lack of self-control endangers not only the inebriated who attempt to drive, but everyone who obeys drinking-and-driving laws but still is forced to share the road with impaired drivers.

Drinking and driving clearly don't mix. Tens of thousands are killed every year in alcohol-related accidents. Hundreds of thousands of others are injured. Indeed, drunk driving is so common that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly a third of annual traffic-related deaths involve alcohol-impaired drivers. Officials sadly note, too, that a high percentage of children under 14 who die in traffic accidents each year were being driven by a drunken driver.

There is no real antidote to holiday-fueled drinking and the impaired driving that inevitably follows. Education campaigns and sobriety checkpoints and other efforts by law enforcement agencies have helped reduce the number of drunken drivers on the roads in recent years. Still, the numbers remain far too high. Those who want to drink and drive will do despite all efforts -- including the possibility of criminal charges and heavy financial penalties -- to dissuade them from doing so.

Self-regulation, accountable party hosts, and waiters and bartenders with a sense of social responsibility and legal accountability that outweighs the pursuit of tips can reduce the number of drunk drivers. Those efforts are welcome. Yet the best way to make sure that the long New Year's holiday period that begins tonight and ends on Monday doesn't end in tragedy on the roads is to remember the familiar mantra that officials have recited for years: Don't drink and drive.

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