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As we welcome the beginning of the holiday season, it’s time to also remind everyone to play it safe. The AAA projects that about 44 million people will travel over this long weekend and that about 90% of them will reach their destinations by car. This is in part thanks to the fact that gas prices are lower, so more families can afford to visit extended family this year. There is also the rare phenomenon that Hanukkah starts over the Thanksgiving holiday as well, so it’s a perfect time to see loved ones and “kill two birds with one stone”. It’s a happy time filled with the warmth of family and friends, but it’s also important to remember that Thanksgiving statistically is one of the four federal holidays during which we see an increase in fatal crashes, even more than on New Years Eve!

There are a few different reasons for this increase in fatalities. First of all, there are more drivers on the road. Secondly, many people try to get to their destinations by driving late at night on Wednesday and are tired, and are travelling in places that they don’t necessarily know the roads or the normal traffic flow patterns. Lastly, the night before Thanksgiving or “Black Wednesday” when the majority of travelers are trying to get places is also considered to be one of the busiest bar nights of the year. In fact, many hot spots advertise “Black Wednesday” specials and encourage people to come out and party - “It’s Black Wednesday. Drink it up!” Why not? Most people have the next day off from work and want to get out before spending all day Thursday in the confined space of someone’s home. And, in many cases, people have returned to their hometowns for the holiday and want to get together with old friends.

Most people don’t consider that the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving is one of the deadliest each year due to an increase in alcohol related incidents by as much as 25%, and it’s also a huge binge night for underage drinkers as well. At the college level, kids get together for on campus parties if they can’t get home for the holidays. In many homes, parents seem to become more lenient about letting their young adults drink because they’re happy to have them home and want them to enjoy themselves. It turns out to be a time of year when it’s easier for underage drinkers to get their hands on alcohol. Statistics show that almost 19% of individuals involved in fatal car accidents over the holidays have a blood alcohol level at or above .08% and are 16 to 20 years old!

When it comes to holiday drinking at any age, a huge issue is that people are often drinking over a longer period of time, are around others they don’t see often, are in situations that might be more stressful, and are staying up later than usual. This mixture can lead to the deadly combination of too much drinking, too much said, and poor judgment.

To play it safe this holiday weekend:

1. Don’t drink and drive even if you’ve only had “one” drink.

2. Avoid driving during rush hour on Wednesday night or late that evening.

3. If you do drive, drive cautiously and defensively.

4. If you do go out drinking with friends, opt for warm and satisfying non-alcoholic drinks like spiced apple cider, hot chocolate, decaf coffee drinks or hot spiced lemonade.

Also keep in mind that the highway patrol will be out in full force trying to keep communities safe. Expect more DUI checkpoints and more police presence on the roads.