OUR OPINION: Drive with care during Mardi Gras season

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

It seems that everyone is in the mood to party thanks to the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory and the Mardi Gras season. What a great time this month is to be alive in Louisiana and enjoying all the festivities.

While we do so, it behooves everyone to heed the warnings of Louisiana Highway Safety Commission when they say Mardi Gras consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous holidays in the state for motorists.

In terms of highway deaths and injuries, the Mardi Gras holiday period is by the far the deadliest of the eight holidays the commission tracks with statistics.

Preliminary statistics for 2009 are in, showing that 22 people were killed and 1,017 injured in Mardi Holiday period crashes.

Of the 22 deaths during last year's Mardi Gras holiday, 13 were alcohol related. In 2008, 16 people were killed in 611 crashes, and there were 988 injured persons. The commission reports that 11 of the 16 deaths in 2008 were alcohol related.

Probably more than any other holiday in Louisiana, Mardi Gras sees high levels of partying and drinking of alcoholic beverages. Grants are provided to the commission to help law enforcement agencies around the state conduct sobriety checkpoints and send out extra patrols.

“Ten people were injured or killed in traffic crashes during every hour of last year's log Mardi Gras weekend,” says John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.

“This a terrible statistic, which we intend to improve through increased education and enforcement.”

Fat Tuesday falls on Feb. 16 this year, but the holiday for counting traffic accidents and fatalities starts on the Friday before Mardi Gras.

It's a time to exercise extra caution when on the highways, and discretion when enjoying the happy season.

Motorists should also remember Louisiana has increased penalties for drivers arrested and convicted of drunken driving.

One of the most recent is a law imposing a 15-day jail sentence for drivers caught driving with suspended licenses for a previous DWI.

Drivers who refuse to take blood alcohol concentration tests face a one-year license suspension, and many drivers arrested on DWI charges must install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles.

We hope everyone enjoying this special Mardi Gras season will take extra care when behind the wheel. Drive defensively and don't drink and drive.