Effort is to reduce the amount of drunk driving during holidays
Most drunken drivers don’t think they have had too much to drink, which makes keeping the roads safe on New Year’s Eve more challenging, Kansas Department of Transportation officials say.
Out of five deaths and 471 crashes in the three-day period surrounding the New Year’s holiday in 2010-2011, one death and 46 crashes were attributed to alcohol, behind driver inattention and driving too fast for conditions on what was apparently an icy Dec. 31.
The number of crashes attributed to alcohol remained relatively consistent over the past five years, varying by only about 10 accidents, despite public campaigns against drunken driving and other unsafe behaviors.
Pete Bodyk, traffic safety manager for KDOT, said a certain percentage of people just ignore laws and safety issues, but most people who get in drunken driving crashes overestimate their abilities behind the wheel.
“People think they’re OK to drive when they’re not,” he said. “They don’t realize they’re drinking and driving.”
The gap between people’s perceptions and reality is one of the reasons KDOT pushes the idea of designated drivers, particularly at times like New Year’s Eve when many people are out celebrating.
AAA, the Law Offices of Swinnen and Associates, and Yellow Cab decided to approach the problem in a different way by intervening directly. They are teaming up to offer free cab rides to people coming home from bars and parties on New Year’s Eve. The rides will be free from 8 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday, and cabs will give revelers free rides back to their cars after their intoxication wears off Tuesday morning, provided they call before noon, Yellow Cab owner Chris Avey said.
Avey said the phone lines were busy all night last year, and he expects even more demand this year. People have been using cabs more often in the lead-up to Christmas than in previous years when they were watching their budgets more closely, he said.
“People are spending more this year,” he said. “I think people said, ‘The heck with it.’ ”
Jim Hanni, AAA’s executive vice president for the Kansas region, said the key to having a safe holiday is making a plan of how to get home before going out.
“You don’t want to designate someone who’s had the least amount to drink,” he said.
Bodyk agreed, and he urged people not to rely on “old wives’ tales” about how fast their bodies should be able to process alcohol, because everyone’s internal chemistry is different.
“You could have 10 guys at the table all doing the same thing, and it affects them all differently,” he said.
Hanni compared the fight against drunken driving to the push for drivers to use seat belts. In the 1970s, most drivers didn’t use seat belts, and many cars didn’t come with them, he said, but a combination of laws and public education helped increase seat belt use and decrease traffic fatalities, he said.
“Gradually the culture of traffic safety begins to shift,” he said. “The bottom line is we’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a long way to go.”
Safety advocates are using a similar approach to reducing impaired driving, Hanni said, which becomes especially important at this time of year. Despite the day before Thanksgiving’s reputation as the top bar night nationwide, New Year’s Eve is probably the top night for intoxication in Topeka, he said.