The Fourth of July is a holiday traditionally observed by launching aerial explosives into the sky, but being struck by a stray bottle rocket isn't the greatest danger many of us face. That dishonorable designation instead goes to a high-risk activity that mars several of our national holidays: drunken driving. And statistically, the holiday period that runs from 6 p.m. July 3 to 5:59 a.m. July 5 is one of the deadliest in terms of people killed by intoxicated drivers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during the 2012 holiday weekend alone, 179 people died and 44 percent of those crashes involved a motorist with a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher. Over the combined holiday periods from 2008 to 2012, there were 765 impaired-driving-related fatalities. In 2012, nearly 15 percent of the drivers had a BAC level of .15 (nearly twice the legal limit) or higher.
"Alcohol not only impairs your ability to drive, it impairs your judgment about whether you can or should drive," NHTSA said in a statement promoting its "Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving" campaign. "The reality is you don't have to be wasted to be a menace to everyone around you on the highways."
Here are some other sobering stats from NHTSA on drunken driving:
- In 2012, someone was killed in an alcohol-related crash every 51 minutes.
- Over the Independence Day holiday period in 2012, 39 percent of drivers involved in nighttime fatal crashes were alcohol-impaired compared with 16 percent during the day.
- Also during that year's holiday period, nearly half of young drivers killed in traffic crashes were alcohol-impaired.
- In addition to potential jail time and loss of one's driver's license, a DUI arrest costs the average defendant $10,000 due to higher insurance rates, attorney's fees, fines, court costs, towing and auto repairs, lost time at work and other related expenses.
And here are some tips from NHTSA on how revelers can "do everyone a July 4th favor":
- Plan a safe way home with a sober driver before the fun begins.
- If you're impaired, call a taxi or a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation or a community sober-ride program.
- If you see a drunken driver on the road, don't hesitate to notify police.
- Make a commitment to driving completely sober, and if you know people who are about to drive drunk or ride with someone who is, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get home safely.