Festive celebrations and shared good times are what we usually associate with the arrival of holidays. But all too often, drugs and alcohol have brought unbearable tragedy into the lives of countless Americans on what were expected to be joyous occasions.
Like Santa Claus at Christmas, turkey at Thanksgiving and fireworks on the 4th of July, driving under the influence has become an American holiday tradition. It is the unwelcome gift that keeps on giving, showing up like clockwork on each and every special day of gathering and observance. On a typical day, there are 300,000 incidents of DUI on American highways, but this number rises substantially when the holiday spirit is in the air.
Labor Day is no exception to the rule. The National Safety Council estimates that approximately 400 people will lose their lives in traffic accidents over the typical Labor Day weekend, and about 150, or 40 percent, of these unfortunate souls will be the victims of drunk drivers. To put this in perspective, on the average day, 28 people will die in alcohol-related car crashes, so 150 deaths over a three-day period represents a nearly 80 percent increase over the norm. Adding to the carnage, another 35,000 to 40,000 Labor Day travelers will suffer serious injuries in automobile accidents, with drunk driving as the primary culprit in 13,000 to 15,000 of these cases.
The American Automobile Association estimates that 35 million people will take trips of longer than 50 miles over the 2014 Labor Day weekend. This means denser traffic at a time when drunk driving is all too common, which explains why Labor Day is such a treacherous time to travel. In fact, the Labor Day weekend is the fourth-most dangerous holiday observance in the United States, with only Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Memorial Day providing more work for the nation’s undertakers.
Drunk Driving Never Takes a Holiday
While we don’t often say it aloud, most of us assume that bad things will happen only to other people. But the nature of Labor Day Weekend accidents is so random and unpredictable that complacency should not be considered an option.
This is a shocking statistic that should give everyone pause: according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, two out of every three Americans will be involved in a drunk-driving related accident at some point in their lives. When confronting a hazard this ubiquitous, eternal vigilance is clearly called for, and special care should obviously be taken when the danger is at its highest level. If we are out and about this Labor Day Weekend, we could run into – or more accurately, be run into by – a drunk driver at any moment, and this is a sobering truth we would be unwise to ignore.
And there is another aspect of the problem we must face honestly. As we look forward to this upcoming Labor Day holiday, virtually no one is expecting to drive drunk – but nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of people will. Alcohol and drugs compromise our judgment, and under their influence many otherwise intelligent people will do stupid and dangerous things. Even alcoholics and addicts probably don’t expect to drive drunk in most instances before they actually do it. So as we contemplate ways to keep our families and ourselves safe over the 2014 Labor Day weekend, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that only other people are capable of acting irresponsibly under the influence of alcohol.
Five Ways to Promote Safety on the Highway on Labor Day Weekend
Highway safety is everyone’s concern and everyone’s responsibility. Here are a few suggestions for action that can help make the upcoming Labor Day holiday safer for all:
- Don’t make any excuses for bad behavior: If drinking will be going on, designated drivers should be considered mandatory. It is important to make arrangements ahead of time so that no one is tempted to do anything foolish at the spur of the moment. Also, if you are the parent of teenagers, make sure you let them know you expect them to be responsible; car accidents are the leading cause of death for adolescents, and fully one-fourth of those crashes are related to intoxicated driving. Gently but firmly educate your teens about the risks young, inexperienced drivers face when alcohol or drugs are added to the picture.
- Don’t start the car until everyone is buckled up: The National Safety Council estimates that seatbelts will save about 150 lives over the Labor Day weekend. As hard as you might try to avoid accidents, you can’t control the actions of other drivers – no matter how careful you are.
- Make the inside of your car a distraction-free zone: Because hazardous situations can arise in the blink of an eye, when the potential for danger is ratcheted up, your concentration must remain unbroken. To eliminate distractions while driving, cell phones and other portable electronic devices should be kept off inside the car.
- Travel during daytime: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automobile accidents that take place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. kill three times as many people as accidents that happen during the day. And when the accidents in question are related to drunk driving, the fatality rate is four-and-a-half times greater.
- If you or someone you know has a drinking or a drug problem, get the help you or she needs now, before it is too late: There is undoubtedly a strong relationship between driving under the influence and alcohol or drug addiction. One of the best ways to keep everyone safe this Labor Day, and every day after, is to check yourself into a rehab facility if you have a substance abuse problem. And if someone you care about is struggling with drugs or alcohol, you should do everything in your power to persuade her that she needs help, and that today is the time to act. Making a full recovery from addiction takes a lot of hard work, but honoring the nobility of hard work is exactly what Labor Day is all about – so what better time to get clean and sober than right now?