WASHINGTON — Holidays are a time to gather with family and friends and celebrate. But according to information from the U.S. Department of Transportation, too often people make the frequently fatal error of drinking and driving. At the kickoff of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s crackdown on drunk driving, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told reporters, “Every 54 minutes during the holiday season, drunk driving claims a life.”
The holiday enforcement, which runs from Dec. 13 through Jan. 1, features the slogan “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” David Strickland, administrator of National Highway Traffic Safety, reminds party-goers, “If you can make plans to go to a party, then you can make a plan to get home safely.” Strickland gestured to the police officers standing behind him at the news conference. “Know that if you do choose to drink and drive, you will be caught and you will be arrested. Our friends behind me will make pretty darn tootin’ sure of it!”
A number of states have toughened their drunk driving laws. Virginia passed legislation that mandates drunk drivers be required to get breath alcohol ignition interlock systems installed in their cars on a first offense. Similar legislation has failed to pass the Maryland General Assembly. Citing progress in awareness, Strickland said there is still much more work to be done. “Last year, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased by 4.6 percent”. In real numbers, that means that 10,322 people were killed in 2012 compared to 9,865 in 2011. “The majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or higher, nearly double the legal limit.” Pausing, Strickland drove the point home and repeated, “Nearly double.”
Foxx, secretary of transportation, stood in front of a cutout Christmas tree lit with 830 small red lights. “Those lights represent the 830 people who died last year*, all victims of drunk driving, all tragedies that could have been prevented.” Among those represented on that tree, 18-year-old Kaitlin Gallagher, a Bethesda girl whose father Eugene Gallagher spoke after placing a photograph of his dark-haired smiling daughter on the podium. “I cannot fully express the pain and loss of a daughter who was just 18 years old. Katie was loved by many of her friends, classmates, teachers, coaches and family. And we will miss her dearly.”
As part of the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” program, the NHTSA has released new guidelines to encourage more states to adopt breath alcohol ignition interlock programs.