Long Mardi Gras holiday revelry often marred by crashes

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Louisiana motorists were involved in more fatal and injury crashes during the 102-hour Mardi Gras holiday in 2011 than during any other holiday period, according to statistics compiled by the Highway Safety Research Group at LSU.

With 611 fatal and injury crashes reported, the 2011 Mardi Gras holiday crash rate far outranked all other holidays that year. Fatal and injury crashes during other holiday periods in 2011 were: Memorial Day, 292; July 4th, 297; Labor Day, 364; Halloween, 388; Thanksgiving, 440; Christmas 311; and New Year's Eve, 298. The Mardi Gras and Thanksgiving holidays include 102 hours while the others include 78 or 54 hours.

The 611 fatal and injury crashes during Mardi Gras 2011 included six deaths and 1,070 injuries. While the fatality rate was modest when compared to other holiday periods, the injury rate far exceeded all others.

"Traffic on many Louisiana roads is extremely heavy during the Mardi Gras holiday," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "Combine all those vehicles on the road with alcohol consumption and the result is increased danger."

As it does for most holidays, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission has provided grants to police departments and sheriffs' offices across the state to increase enforcement during Mardi Gras. Officers participating in the grant program conduct saturation patrols, sobriety checkpoints and other enforcement activities.

"We must keep in mind that Mardi Gras isn't only a New Orleans event. It is celebrated across much of South Louisiana and even in parts of Texas and Alabama," LeBlanc said. "It's a holiday that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to our state. Unfortunately, some of the revelers make the dreadful decision to drive while intoxicated, which greatly increases the chance of causing a serious crash."

Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense in Louisiana, with a first-offense arrest costing as much as $1,000 in fines, plus court costs and even jail time. An adult driver can be arrested in Louisiana if his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 or higher. The limit for drivers under 21 is 0.02 BAC.

Drivers and passengers are also reminded to wear their seat belts at all times, especially during the holiday season. Louisiana law requires front- and rear-seat passengers to buckle up while their vehicle is in motion. Regular seat belt use is the single most effective way to protect individuals and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.