Opinion

Holiday traffic safety campaign

The winter holidays bring a certain magic to the gray days of December in Puget Sound. They also bring a spike in alcohol-related crashes that result in tragic death, disfigurement and lifelong disabilities. The terrible costs these crashes inflict on our families and communities make motor-vehicle crashes a major public health, law enforcement and community safety issue.

Nationally, about 42,000 people die each year in motor-vehicle crashes. Last year, 17,401 Americans died in alcohol-related crashes. In Washington State, 282 (on average) people die every year in alcohol-related crashes. From 1993-2002, 457 people in Seattle and King County died in alcohol-related collisions. Furthermore, from 1991-2002, 256 people died in Washington crashes on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays.

This holiday season, law enforcement, public health and other community safety organizations are working together to reduce crashes in Washington State. As part of this effort, police officers, deputies and troopers across King County and Washington are working overtime to prevent impaired drivers from causing life-threatening crashes. The goal of this holiday traffic safety campaign is to keep our streets and roads safe for everyone by preventing intoxicated motorists from driving. The campaign's message is "Drive hammered, get nailed!"

Thanks to a grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, officers from King County's suburban cities and towns will work hundreds of additional hours to patrol the roads this holiday season. Furthermore, the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Patrol will be out in full force looking for drunk and other impaired drivers.

Although alcohol-related crashes remain a major problem, we have made progress. For example, the State Patrol reported making 22,578 DUI arrests in Washington during 2003, 22 percent more than 2002! In addition, Public Health- Seattle and King County coordinated seven overtime traffic safety patrols in King County in 2003. Officers working these extra patrols reported arresting almost 1,100 impaired drivers! Moreover, most of these drivers were arrested before they crashed or possibly killed or injured themselves or someone else.

Law enforcement throughout the county and state has made drunk and impaired driving a priority. Now, what can you do to prevent it?

* Drive only when sober.

* Plan to take a cab, bus, or ride with a sober driver if drinking or using other intoxicants.

* Serve food at your parties and have nonalcoholic drinks available. Arrange alternative transportation for intoxicated guests or allow them to sleep at your home. Only serve alcohol to people over 21.

* Alert the police or troopers immediately by calling 911 if you spot a driver who appears drunk or is driving dangerously. Keep a safe distance between your car and motorists driving erratically.

* Call the Washington Alcohol/Drug 24-Hour Help Line for free, confidential help if your use of alcohol or drugs causes stress or problems. The toll-free number is (800) 562-1240.

Unfortunately, many people still think nothing of having a couple of drinks or using other drugs before driving. The reality is, however, that these intoxicated drivers leave a trail of needless heartbreak and pain every day in King County and Washington State. Do your part to end this carnage by driving sober this holiday season and each time you drive.


Tony Gomez,

Program Manager

Violence and Injury

Prevention,

Public Health- Seattle & King County

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