By Chairman Christopher A. Hart
As Journalist Doug Larson put it, “If all the cars in the United States were placed end-to-end, it would probably be Labor Day weekend.”
This year, AAA Travel predicts the heaviest Labor Day travel volume in seven years, most of it by car. And while it’s no fun sitting in traffic on the way to or from that last cookout, on your trip to the beach, or returning from your summer vacation, there’s something far worse to worry about.
With Labor Day traffic and – for some – Labor Day alcohol consumption come Labor Day crashes, injuries, and deaths. And each one is a tragedy that is as preventable as it is predictable.
According to a preliminary estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic fatalities were up 9.5% in the first quarter of 2015, compared with the first quarter of 2014. Part of that is that we’re driving more, for a variety of reasons, but the most troubling part is that the rate of fatalities – fatalities per vehicle mile – also increased.
If this year reflects what has been happening for decades, impaired driving will account for about a third of those deaths.
This Labor Day weekend, NHTSA will join with state and local law enforcement in a high-visibility national crackdown on drunk drivers. You may have already seen the campaign slogan: “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”
Since 2000, almost 160,000 people have died in motor vehicle crashes involving impaired drivers. And while drinking and driving is a known culprit, drugged driving is increasingly becoming a problem.
To put greater emphasis on this issue, the NTSB put “End Substance Impairment in Transportation” on its Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.
Education efforts, stronger laws, and high-visibility enforcement are all necessary to end impaired-driving. The NTSB supports lowering the current legal blood alcohol content, or BAC, limit in every state from 0.08 to 0.05, which is the legal limit in many other countries. Why? Because impairment begins with the first drink.
For drugged driving, better data collection will help us to better assess the problem and the interventions that will work.
What does this mean for you?
Don’t drive impaired by alcohol or any other drug – whether illicit, over-the-counter, or prescription. When a warning label advises against operating “heavy machinery,” such machinery includes a car.
If you’re uncertain about the impairment potential of a drug, don’t take chances – discuss it with your doctor.
The roads will be crowded this Labor Day weekend, with more than 35 million travelers expected. Do your part to keep crashes to a minimum – and don’t drive impaired.
Reducing impaired driving will help prevent crashes, but what’s the easiest way to help eliminate or reduce injuries if there is a crash? Your seat belt! If you are in a car – in any seat – be sure to wear your seat belt, and make sure others in the car do, too!