New year's celebrations take many forms, ranging from the quite benign to the foolhardy. One of the most dangerous rites is consuming too much alcohol and then attempting to drive a car, a truck or a motorcycle. The result -- despite widespread admonitions about the perils of drinking and driving -- is predictable. There is almost always a rise in alcohol-related traffic accidents and deaths surrounding the festivities marking the arrival of a new year.
Warnings about drinking and driving and public service announcements about DUI/sobriety checkpoints serve a valuable purpose during this and other holiday seasons. DUI fatality rates across the nation are on the decline, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They dropped by about 7 percent between 2007 and 2008. Those declines, according to public safety experts, were most noticeable in states where enforcement of drunk driving laws was the most vigorous.
Strict DUI enforcement certainly has produced positive results in Tennessee. DUI fatalities in the state have declined from 414 in 2006 to 377 in 2007 to 327 in 2008, according to a a Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman. Officials hope the implementation of more than 100 sobriety and drivers license compliance checkpoints -- manned by highway patrol and cooperating local authorities across the state during the current holiday season -- will help bring similar reductions in 2009. That's an admirable goal.
While Tennessee's drop in DUI related deaths is notable, there is still room for improvement. Other states report even greater declines. Tennessee officials hope continued DUI enforcement actions and continued public service announcements in print and in other media will discourage those who have imbibed from getting behind the wheel. That's an important message during the current extended holiday period, but it has validity throughout the year.
While there have been declines in DUI accidents in the state, Tennessee is hardly a poster child for vehicular safety. There still are far too many alcohol-related accidents and deaths on the state's roads. That, in turn, helps boost Tennessee's fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled -- a useful statistic calculated and reported annually by the NHTSA -- to an unacceptably high level.
One way to reduce that number is for state and local law enforcement officials to strictly enforce driving laws, particularly during periods when there is a noticeable increase in the number of violators. Sobriety checkpoints and reminders to employ a designated driver when necessary aren't designed to ruin someone's holiday. They are productive measures to make the roads safer for all who travel them.