No blue lights during Christmas


As recently reported in the Commercial, beginning Friday, law enforcement agencies throughout Arkansas will launch an intensive effort to designed to take intoxicated and otherwise impaired drivers off our state’s roadways during the holiday season.

State Police Director Col. Stan Witt characterized the special patrols succinctly, “If your celebration includes drinking alcohol, please celebrate responsibly and don’t take a chance because chances are you will get caught. The choice is yours. Designate a driver or one will be appointed for you, straight to jail.”

Witt’s remarks are straight on target, save for a couple of important omissions. There are two other possible destinations to which a night of drunk driving might take you: the poor house or the morgue. Mind you, these three aren’t mutually exclusive. One night of irresponsible excess is sufficient to end or ruin lives and bankrupt your family.

The financial burden alone can be staggering. According to the website, drinkinganddriving.org, the average cost of a simple conviction for drunk driving averages between $7,000 to $20,000 — even if there is no property damage or injury. If you hurt someone or damage their property, the costs can easily multiply exponentially.

Then there’s the shame and embarrassment of having to go to court — a shame that your family will also have to bear — as well as the public humiliation of seeing your arrest record in the media.

Unfortunately, all these grim admonishments tend to fall on deaf ears, here in Arkansas. According to drinkinganddriving.org, Arkansas gets a grade of “D” along with other states that have between 69-100 DWI arrests per 10,000. According to their statistics, 76 out of every 10,000 Arkansans are arrested for drunk or impaired driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration paints the situation more bluntly, “In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes — one every 51 minutes.”

The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argue that the tally is substantially higher. They contend that alcohol-related highway crashes accounted for 13,365 deaths in 2010. In addition, they calculate that alcohol-related highway crashes annually cost Americans an estimated $37 billion.

The Century Council adds a more local dimension. During 2010, Arkansas had 173 alcohol impaired driving fatalities, 17 of which were persons under 21 years of age. While the organization reports that impaired driving deaths are down 2.1 percent over the last decade, that decrease is likely of little comfort to all the friends and family left behind.

A recent report for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics suggests that despite the gory counts above, there is room for metered hope, “… drunk driving awareness and enforcement efforts such as Zero Tolerance Laws may be having a positive impact. The percentage of alcohol-related fatalities decreased from 50.6 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 2009 … all 50 States, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration limit for determining if drivers are driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), up from just 2 in 1990. Among major crimes, driving under the influence has one of the highest arrest rates with more than 1.4 million DUI arrests in 2010.”

This last line “…one of the highest arrest rates…” dovetails nicely with Witt’s remarks above. If you drive drunk, you have a high probability of going to jail.

Yes, it’s the holidays. We all like to have a good time, but that good time shouldn’t end in disaster. As the folks at drinkinganddriving.org note, “Ninety percent of all drunk driving happens after drinking with family, friends, and coworkers. There is almost always somebody around who could be part of the solution. Don’t let drunk driving happen right in front of you.”