Study: Drunk driving deaths will climb before '09

Nearly one in every four deadly crashes in Nebraska are alcohol-related, but the numbers are expected to escalate during the remaining days of the year. David Kelly, acting director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says the studies make it clear — more people are carelessly drinking and driving during the holidays.

Nationwide, fifty people die every day in drunk driving crashes during the holiday season, while about 35 people are killed per day throughout the rest of the year. “There is a significant increase in alcohol-related fatalities during the holiday season,” Kelly says. In recent years, thirty-eight percent of all traffic deaths during the Christmas period came in crashes involving a drunk driver, while it rises to 41-percent during the New Year’s timeframe. That compares with 31-percent for the year as a whole.

For the full year, Kelly says Nebraska’s rate of drunk driving crashes is below the national numbers. Kelly says Nebraska had 77 fatalities last year where the driver had a point-08 blood-alcohol level or above, that’s just under 25-percent of the overall number of 256 fatal crashes statewide.

Aside from all of the ethical and moral implications, Kelly says just the financial side of a drunk driving arrest can be staggering. “You have things like court costs and other fees,” he says. “You’re looking at an increase in insurance costs, the cost of a lawyer, those two factors alone will run into the thousands, and that doesn’t even consider that you might actually have to go to jail for killing somebody if you’re in an alcohol-related situation.”

Kelly says the research has found that one age group in particular — 21-to-24-year-olds — is involved in more alcohol-impaired fatal crashes than any other age group. He says the key is self-discipline. “Figure out how you’re getting home and figure that out before you start drinking,” Kelly says. “It’s the most important thing you can do. Is it going to be a designated driver or are you going to take a cab home? Is there some sort of public transportation you can take or are you going to stay with a friend? These are all decisions you need to make before you start drinking.”

Party hosts also need to prepare to have guests overnight and keep a close eye on everyone and their alcohol consumption, making sure no one who’s impaired gets behind the wheel.