Alcohol is factor in more than half of state's July 4 crash deaths

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Crash deaths during last year's Fourth of July holiday in Louisiana more than tripled over the previous two years and alcohol use was a factor in a majority of those fatalities. This year, dozens of law enforcement agencies have joined the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission's Drive Sober or Get Pulled Overcampaign designed to save lives by keeping impaired drivers off the road.

Overall traffic deaths--including those that occur during holiday periods--have been declining over the past few years in Louisiana. While total 2011 fatalities followed that trend, deaths during the Fourth of July holiday last year jumped to seven from two in 2009 and 2010, according to preliminary data. Alcohol was a factor in four of last year's seven crash deaths during the holiday period. Preliminary data shows that a total of 668 people died in Louisiana traffic crashes last year, down from 721 in 2010.

Nationwide, 392 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes during the Fourth of July holiday in 2010. Of those fatalities, 39 percent were in crashes that involved at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. During all of 2010, more than 10,000 people were killed in impaired-driving crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said troopers will be working hundreds of overtime hours, along with local law enforcement agencies, during the Fourth of July holiday. Enforcement efforts will include roving and saturation patrols, sobriety checkpoints and other enforcement methods.

“It's a tragedy that so many of our holiday celebrations are marred by crashes involving impaired driving,” said Edmonson. “State Police troopers will be visible throughout the Fourth of July holiday with proactive patrols. We encourage all motorists to make responsible decisions and have a safe and enjoyable Independence Day celebration.”

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, points out that Fourth of July celebrations often start during the day, but last into the evening--making the dangers from impaired drivers even higher at night.

"The amount of alcohol that a person can consume during a day-long party can seriously compromise the motor skills he or she needs to drive safely. Combine this with the fact that others may be out driving impaired and the increased dangers of driving at night and you have a potentially dangerous situation on the road," LeBlanc said.

"The solution is to stay away from alcoholic beverages if you're going to drive, but if you do drink, make sure you have a designated driver who has not been drinking."

As part of the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission provided grants to State Police and law local enforcement agencies to conduct hundreds of hours of overtime patrols dedicated to arresting impaired drivers during the 78-hour holiday period. The campaign, funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is a nationwide effort to save lives.

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 .08 or higher. The limit for drivers under 21 is .02 BAC.