Hundreds Of People Will Not Make It Home Safely During The Holidays, Safety Group Says

As many as 750 people in the United States may lose their lives this Christmas or New Year’s in car crashes, mostly due to impaired driving, speeding and distraction.

Those are the highlights of new traffic fatality estimates released on Thursday by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit advocacy group, that assessed how dangerous the nation’s roads can be during the holidays.

“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,” Jenny Burke, vice president of impairment practice at the National Safety Council, said in a statement. “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.”

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, and in addition to alcohol, drugs, including opioids, marijuana and some over-the-counter medicines, can impair driving by causing drowsiness, altering vision and affecting mental judgment and motor skills, the safety group said. Fatigue and stress can also impair a person’s ability to drive, it added, and a combination of any of these factors can be deadly.

The safety group’s analysis is supported by a new study published by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The federal agency’s report, Alcohol and Drug Prevalence Among Seriously or Fatally Injured Road Users, was released earlier this month, “just as one of the deadliest seasons for impaired driving gets underway.” The study examined the prevalence of alcohol and drug use (legal, prescription and illegal drugs), in the blood of a large sample of seriously or fatally injured drivers and other crash victims, including bicyclists and pedestrians. Data was collected from seven Level 1 trauma centers across the country.

The study found:

  • Fifty-six percent of seriously or fatally injured road users tested positive for alcohol, or some type of drug known to have potentially impairing effects.
  • The presence of cannabinoids (25%) and alcohol (23%) were most prevalent, followed by stimulants (11%) and opioids (9%).
  • The presence of two or more drugs was reported in 18% of cases with serious injuries and 32% of the fatalities.

The release of the report was in conjunction with the federal agency’s annual holiday season impaired-driving campaign to remind holiday revelers about the dangers of driving while impaired, and high-visibility enforcement efforts in communities nationwide through January 1 to get impaired drivers off the roads, using sobriety checkpoints and community outreach.

Driving impaired by any substance – alcohol or other drugs, whether legal or illegal – is against the law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the federal agency warned. It urges drivers to plan ahead, especially when celebrating the holidays, to never drive drunk or high, to check the availability of sober ride programs in their communities, and to call 911 if they see an impaired driver on the road.

“Making a plan for a safe, sober ride home is critical to saving lives this holiday season,” Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, said in a statement. “I urge everyone to do their part to end these preventable tragedies by always driving sober, designating a sober driver, using public transportation or calling a taxi or ride-hailing service.”

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