This is the second of a four-part series titled Personal Injuries & Thanksgiving, which seeks to identify major safety concerns associated with this holiday period. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has tracked data regarding traffic fatalities on major holidays for over 30 years. They found that roughly 91% of those in the U.S. will travel by car on Thanksgiving and twice as many travelers go 50 miles or more, considerably more than on Christmas or New Year's Day. In Colorado, local law enforcement is gearing up again to prevent accidents during the Thanksgiving period in efforts to reverse a consistent annual tradition of injuries and fatalities during this holiday.
Traffic Volume & Economic Losses
The NHTSA reported that last year there were 502 traffic fatalities on Thanksgiving. The next two closest holidays for fatalities are Labor Day and Independence Day. The average Thanksgiving road trip is over 200 miles, which on average is higher than Christmas or New Year's, particularly when those holidays do not occur on a weekend day. With the predictability of Thanksgiving being on Thursday, people are believed to be more willing to commit to visiting friends or family in advance and plan accordingly. Gas prices for this year are slightly over $2.60 per gallon, which is a level that encourages travel by passenger vehicles. Vehicle crashes annually cost the taxpayers over $100 billion. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that a massive $36 billion is paid out in auto insurance claims each year now.
Both alcohol use and abuse are high during holiday periods. Many of those who drink regularly may increase consumption due to having time off from work or attending more social functions. Many of those who do not drink regularly are more inclined to do so to celebrate. The traffic fatalities on the Thanksgiving holiday involve alcohol approximately 50% of the time. AAA spokesman, Robert Sinclair, says the combination of more vehicles on the road and excessive alcohol consumption makes things dangerous. The rates of accidents that lead to fatalities are higher during holiday period also, suggesting more severe collisions occur. Those most likely to be intoxicated while driving are persons between the ages of 21 and 24; they also make up almost 40% of those killed.
Colorado Enforcement Efforts
Darrell Lingk, the Safety Director for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), has been vocal recently in efforts to reverse the holiday accident trend in recent years. He says that Colorado residents should be well aware that driving while intoxicated is certainly not tolerable. The dangers that drunk drivers pose to others is simply magnified amid increased traffic during holiday periods. DUI convictions are now among those violations that have significant legal and financial ramifications. Under heightened laws, first-time offenders may be subject to incarceration for up to one year, with license suspension and fines. Many DUI offenders will lose roughly $10,000 in these situations when the costs, including expensive auto insurance premiums, are factored in. Scott Hernandez, the Chief of the Colorado State Patrol, says his team is looking to “track down” intoxicated drivers as much as possible. He explained that many people simply do not realize that only a few drinks can result in a considerable level of impairment.
“Heat is On” Program & New App
The DUI enforcement initiative called “The Heat is On” utilizes traffic checkpoints, statistical data, and increased patrols during these holiday periods. During last year's Thanksgiving period there were 283 arrests for driving under the influence. Across Colorado, over 90 law enforcement units will be participating. The CDOT released a mobile app known as “R-U Buzzed” that helps those consuming alcohol determine their blood alcohol content (BAC) considering many factors, including gender, weight, and the number of drinks consumed. The current BAC threshold is .08. This app is also linked with two of the popular providers of transportation, Uber & Lyft, who can get people home safely.