Safe roads start with sober and distraction free driving

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are times for families to gather together, enjoying each other’s company and celebrating all that is good. The last thing anyone wants to happen is for someone from their family to not return home safely. Unfortunately, estimates from the National Safety Council show hundreds of people in the United States will not make it home safely this Christmas or New Year’s, with impaired driving being a major factor.

In North Dakota in 2021, an alcohol-related crash occurred nearly every 13 hours and an alcohol-related vehicle fatality occurred nearly every 10.5 days according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) Highway Safety Division.

The North Dakota Safety Council and the ND Behavioral Health Division team up to provide statewide Responsible Beverage Service training. The training educates owners, managers, servers and sellers at alcohol establishments on strategies to avoid illegally selling alcohol to underage youth and intoxicated customers. From Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022, about 725 people received either in-person or online training and 10 new instructors were trained.

“Impairment, whether it be from alcohol, drugs and/or another factor such as fatigue, causes a decline in visual function, mental judgment and motor skills,” said Jenny Burke, vice president of impairment practice at the NSC. “There is a reason December is impaired driving prevention month, because it can take just one drink for someone you know and love to lose their life driving home. Designate a sober driver, stay overnight or arrange alternative transportation; do your part to keep yourself and others safe.”

In 2020, the latest year of available data, 39% of the deaths over the Christmas holiday and 49% of the deaths during the New Year’s holiday involved an alcohol-impaired driver. In addition to alcohol, although not well measured, drugs — including opioids, marijuana and some over-the-counter medicines — can impair driving by causing drowsiness, altering visual functions and affecting mental judgment and motor skills. Even other factors, such as fatigue and stress, can impair an individual’s ability to drive. A combination of any of these factors can be deadly. Moreover, in a study published this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the seriously injured road users who went to one of the seven participating trauma centers following a crash between 2019 and 2021, 54.2% tested positive for alcohol or other drugs.

In 2022, NSC analysis shows nearly 350 people may die in preventable traffic crashes over the Christmas holiday (beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, and concluding at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26) and more than 400 people over the New Year’s holiday, starting at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, and concluding at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Jan. 2.

“Everyone deserves the right to return home safely, and as a nation, we must do better — for our families, for our friends, for ourselves, for all road users,” said Burke.

Supplemental traffic fatality and injury information can be found on the NSC Injury Facts pages for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods. More information on National Impaired Driving Prevention Month can be found here.

Information provided by Vision Zero North Dakota and National Safety Council