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December 29, 2010 Published in Top Stories, Traffic & Transportation

Don’t Let Drunk Driving Wreck The New Year Before It Starts

New Year’s Eve is celebrated with reflections on the past year and resolutions for the coming one, both often lubricated with alcohol. But when the party hits the road, New Year’s cheer can turn into tragedy in the time it takes to pop a champagne cork.

Local police are joining hundreds of other law enforcement and highway safety agencies throughout the metropolitan Washington region and neighboring states in the Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign to combat the issue of drunk driving during this notoriously dangerous time of year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the period surrounding New Year’s is nearly twice as “DUI-deadly” as the rest of the year. In 2009, 468 people were killed in crashes on our nation’s roadways on New Year’s Day. Of those fatalities, 40% were killed in crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. That’s an average of one drunk driving death every 10 minutes.

“Whether it’s the first day of the year or the last, the odds are never in your favor when you drink and drive,” said Kurt Erickson, project director of the campaign, on behalf of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. “Make no mistake; police will be out in force over the New Year’s holiday looking hard for drunk drivers. If you make the foolish decision to get behind the wheel while impaired, you will be caught and you will be punished.”

WRAP also urges sober drivers to report suspected drunk driving as soon they witness it. Public opinion surveying for Checkpoint Strikeforce indicates that while the large majority of drivers are predisposed to reporting suspected drunk drivers, they underestimate the value in doing so. A June 2010 scientific poll of drivers in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia found that 88 percent of adults said they would report a suspected drunk driver to the police. Given that on most nights of the week, rank-and-file drivers outnumber police cruisers by at least 1,000 to one, these results suggest that drivers underappreciate how impactful they can be in removing drunk drivers from the road.

“The moment you see someone driving erratically, pull over as soon as you safely can and call 911 if you’re in Washington, D.C. or Maryland, or #77 if in Virginia,” said Erickson. “If the vast majority of safe drivers act as extra eyes for law enforcement, together we can make a big difference in getting drunk drivers off the road. And if would-be drunk drivers grow increasingly fearful of being reported by their fellow motorists, we can potentially stop drunk driving before it starts.”

Checkpoint Strikeforce is a research-based initiative designed to catch and arrest drunk drivers via sobriety checkpoints and other enhanced law enforcement efforts and to deter drunk driving by educating the public about the dangers and consequences of drunk driving. Research has shown that sobriety checkpoints can reduce alcohol-related crashes by as much as 20 percent. The campaign is supported in the Greater Washington area by a grant to the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program and  the District Department of Transportation as well as from both the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Highway Safety Office and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ Highway Safety Office.