Michelle Stecher
Valley Voices

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July 2, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Drive sober this holiday

The July Fourth holiday is a favorite time of year for many Americans, with backyard parties, good food and fireworks. But the celebrating unfortunately turns deadly when people drive after drinking alcohol. Drunk driving, buzzed driving and drugged driving are preventable problems, particularly on the Fourth of July. In 2012, there were 179 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes over the Fourth of July holiday in the United States. Of those fatalities, 44 percent occurred in crashes that involved at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a BAC of .08 or higher.

DRUNK DRIVING CRACKDOWN

This Fourth of July, local law enforcement is taking part in a crackdown to put an end to drunk driving. The “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign will mean increased enforcement with zero tolerance for those who drive impaired. You can expect to see the police out in force, so please make plans for a designated driver or public transportation if you plan to celebrate with alcohol or drugs. While friends may complain about seeing law enforcement out in force, please remember that their role is to keep our community safe.

Unfortunately, these enforcement campaigns are necessary — drunk driving is an epidemic in our nation. In 2012, there were 10,322 people killed in drunk-driving crashes and almost half (46 percent) of the young drivers killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes during the Fourth of July holiday in 2012 were alcohol-impaired. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter or higher. In fatal crashes in 2012, almost one in seven drivers (15 percent) had a BAC at or above .15 — almost twice the legal limit.

Driving under the influence of any drug is illegal and just as deadly and dangerous as driving drunk. If you drive impaired by drugs — even if they’re legal drugs like prescriptions and marijuana — you can be arrested for DUI. Marijuana affects reaction time, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, concentration and perception of time and distance. Getting high and getting behind the wheel is just as deadly as driving drunk and results in a DUI.

The tragic reality is that impaired driving isn’t a new concern: From 2011 to 2012, the number of overall drunk-driving-crash fatalities increased by 4.6 percent in the United States. This startling trend must be reversed. Of the over 10,300 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2012, 65 percent were drivers with BACs of .08 or higher, 27 percent were motor vehicle occupants and 8 percent were non-occupants. That’s over 3,600 drunk-driving fatalities of people who were not the drunk driver in 2011-2012!

If you drive high, buzzed or drunk, you not only put your life and the lives of others at risk, you face a DUI arrest. The average DUI costs $10,000, making it difficult to recover financially. Arrested drunk and drugged drivers face jail time, the loss of their driver licenses, higher insurance rates and dozens of other unanticipated expenses from attorney fees, fines and court costs, car towing and repairs, lost time at work, etc.

Make a plan to get home safely this Fourth of July.

• Plan a safe way home before the fun begins.

• Before drinking, designate a sober driver.

• If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member or use public transportation so you are sure to get home safely.

• If you see a drunk driver on the road, don’t hesitate to contact Colorado State Patrol or 911.

• Drugged driving is impaired driving.

And Remember, drive sober or get pulled over. If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to safely get to where they are going.

Whether you’ve had way too many or just one too many, it’s never worth the risk to drive impaired. There’s always another way home. This Fourth of July, be a good role model, keep our community safe and avoid needless and preventable deaths.

For more information about the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, visit www.TrafficSafetyMarketing.gov. A special thank you to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Colorado Department of Transportation, Eagle River Youth Coalition and the Vail Daily for encouraging safety this holiday season.

Michelle Stecher is the executive director at the Eagle River Youth Coalition, a local nonprofit that offers and supports collaborative prevention programs and services.

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The VailDaily Updated Jul 2, 2014 07:56PM Published Jul 2, 2014 02:21PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.