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Sobering statistics on holiday drinking and driving

This year, 1,200 people will lose their lives during the holiday season as a result of alcohol-related traffic accidents. The United States Department of Transportation reported that from 2001 to 2005, an average of 45 people died each day during the holiday season, with the largest number of drunk driving fatalities occurring during Thanksgiving.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), deaths from drinking and driving spike around the holidays, with alcohol being blamed for about 52 percent of fatal collisions on Christmas and 57 percent on New Years compared to a rate of 41 percent for the entire year. In addition to the more than 1,200 alcohol-related deaths that will occur on the road this holiday season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 25,000 people will be injured.

The good news is that there has been a steady decline in the rate of alcohol-related deaths on the nation’s highways during the holidays. Statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that in 1982, there were more than 2,600 deaths due to drinking and driving -- accounting for 60 percent of all accident fatalities. Recent years, however, have witnessed about 1,200 fatalities, or roughly 40 percent.

The discouraging news, however, is that underage drinkers are responsible for between 10 and 20 percent of all alcohol consumed and that, during the holiday period, 21- to 24-year-olds repeatedly make up the highest percentage of impaired drivers. Another negative trend is that arrests for women driving under the influence increased by 29 percent from 1998 to 2007, while DWI arrests for men fell by eight percent. However, the number of men arrested during that period was still four times that of women.

Even with the steady decline in fatalities, the number of drivers with DWI arrests is on the rise. It is estimated that there are as many as two million drunk drivers with three or more convictions and more than 400,000 with five or more DWI convictions still behind the wheel. Here are five steps drivers can take to help avoid becoming a statistic:

1. If they drink, they shouldn’t drive no matter how little they think they’ve had.

2. Don’t let someone get behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking.

3. Avoid driving during early and late evening hours on holidays.

4. If someone must drive, they should be cautious and watch for the erratic movements of drunken drivers.

5. Immediately report suspected drunk drivers to the police.


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