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Holiday Parties “An Opportunity to Save a Life”

PHOTO: This car was painted up by Wisconsin law enforcement authorities to graphically demonstrate the difference in dollar cost between taking a taxi home after having had too much to drink, rather than put the public at risk by drunken driving and getting arrested for it. (Photo credit: Gilman Halsted, WPR)
PHOTO: This car was painted up by Wisconsin law enforcement authorities to graphically demonstrate the difference in dollar cost between taking a taxi home after having had too much to drink, rather than put the public at risk by drunken driving and getting arrested for it. (Photo credit: Gilman Halsted, WPR)
December 24, 2014

MADISON, Wis. - Even though Wisconsin is on track for the lowest number of traffic fatalities in several years, the drinking culture that permeates the state is expected to remain prominent during the holiday season, with drunken driving a perennial problem. Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, lost a daughter to a drunk driver. She says the season for holiday parties can be a dangerous time.

"Frequently those celebrations include alcohol," Withers says. "MADD really urges people to decide before they ever go out, before they ever have their first drink, how they're going to get home with a designated non-drinking driver and that's the key to decide beforehand."

Last year, 185 people died in alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin, down 47 percent since 2003. Law enforcement authorities credit that drop to strict enforcement of drunken driving laws. According to the Department of Transportation, alcohol is involved in about 40 percent of all vehicle wrecks in the state, with costs of nearly $7 billion annually.

There are easy steps party planners can take to cut down on the number of post-party drunken drivers. One step is to make non-alcoholic drinks readily available. Withers suggests others.

"Make sure you also have ideas like phone numbers for alternative transportation or make plans with their friends for how to get home safely," she says. "A couple of hours before the end of the night make sure you're not serving alcohol any more."

The last time Wisconsin revised its drunken driving laws was in 2009, with the passage of Act 100, which, among other things, put a greater emphasis on treatment for drunken drivers. Law enforcement officials say that's helped reduce repeat offenders. Withers encourages party hosts to intervene when a guest has had too many and is about to get behind the wheel.

"People are hesitant to do that," she says. "I used to be hesitant to do that, thinking 'oh, I don't want to get involved' or 'they're going to be upset with me', but I totally look at it differently now. Now, it's an opportunity to save a life."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI