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AAA: "Blackout Wednesday," death never takes a holiday during Thanksgiving travel period

DAYTON -- As everyone knows, the day after Thanksgiving Day is called “Black Friday.” It is the busiest retail shopping day of the year. But fewer people realize the day before Thanksgiving Day is dubbed “Blackout Wednesday” or “Drinksgiving” in some circles. Those are more than clever “buzz words.” Thanksgiving Eve is unofficially known as one of the days of the year with the highest level for alcohol consumption or for binge drinking by college students home for the holiday.

Yet the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a particularly bad day for alcohol-related or drug-related fatal highway crashes, law enforcement officials across the nation and the Miami Valley area confirm. Traffic deaths around Thanksgiving weekend, including “Blackout Wednesday” and “Black Friday,” account for “more than 400 traffic deaths each year.” More cars on the road for the holidays mean more crashes, warns AAA. This year, 43.5 million people are traveling by car to Grandma’s cottage or a favorite vacation spot to celebrate Thanksgiving with family or friends, AAA is projecting. That’s 800,000 more people traveling by automobile than last Thanksgiving. That tally includes 1,822,653 Ohio area residents.

Although Thanksgiving Day is one of the most family-oriented holidays on the calendar, it is also one of the worst times of the year for automobile crashes caused by deer on roadways, inclement weather conditions, and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. The use of marijuana and prescription drugs are emerging as factors in highway safety during the holiday. That’s a recipe for disaster and death on the highways during the busy Thanksgiving travel period, warns AAA. With 90 percent of holiday travelers from Ohio driving to their destinations, everyone on the road must be extra diligent about the dangers of impaired driving.

“‘Blackout Wednesday,’ Thanksgiving Eve, is one of the most dangerous times for overindulgence. It is not the food, it’s the booze,” said AAA Public Affairs Manager, Cindy Antrican. “We fear drunk drivers, but we don’t practice what we preach. There is a big disconnect in our actions and words. More than 1 in 8 motorists (13 percent) report driving when their alcohol level might have been near or over the legal limit within the past 12 months. About 9 percent of drivers report doing this more than once over the past year, a survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals.”

It is also called “Black Wednesday.” Law enforcement officials and traffic safety advocates cite three overarching factors in the spike in DUI/DWI-related traffic crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend:

• Heavy traffic. Thanksgiving Day is actually a heavier long-distance travel day than Wednesday.

• The domino effect of the bacchanalia and bar crawls when college students are home for the holiday.

• During the holidays 45 people are killed by intoxicated motorists a day, compared to 28 each day.

“But officer, I only had two beers.” It’s not your grandfather’s Thanksgiving. Parents are often stunned by how much the younger generation drinks. Thanksgiving Eve is also one of the “biggest bar night of the year,” with many bars staging “Fall Crawl” and “Gobble Wobble” for pre-Thanksgiving partiers. More drunk drivers are out on the road on “Blackout Wednesday,” warns Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). “The holiday has even over taken New Years for the highest number alcohol-impaired driving deaths.”

Alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes cost more than an estimated $37 billion annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Even so, 5,500 people died in car accidents from 2000 to 2009 over the Thanksgiving holiday, NHTSA reports. Roughly “a third of these deaths were attributed to drunken driving, resulting in the highest number of drunk driving accidents of any holiday.”

“By tradition, more wine is sold for Thanksgiving Day dinner than for any other meal of the year,” according to Better Homes And Gardens. In addition to wine, there are other Thanksgiving spirits, cordials or liqueurs. It is estimated 52.8 million cases of beer are sold each Thanksgiving. This compares to 48.7 million cases of beer sold on St. Patrick's Day; 52.8 million cases on Christmas; 60.2 million cases on Labor Day; 61.0 million cases on Memorial Day; and 63.5 million cases on the Fourth of July. That glass of wine or mug of beer with the sumptuous Thanksgiving meal is a factor too in the number of DWI-related crashes and deaths.

“Automobile crashes caused by deer, alcohol and bad weather are more common during the week of Thanksgiving than the rest of the year,” according to a 2014 study by the University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety. “Fifty more people on average die in traffic crashes during Thanksgiving week than during other weeks of the year,” a previous study by the Center also found.

To avoid becoming a statistic, consider leaving earlier or later to avoid heavy traffic, if possible, advises AAA. Map your route in advance and be prepared for busy roads during the most popular times of the year. Thanksgiving Day was the holiday period in 2014 with “the most motor vehicle deaths (403),” cautions the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). It was followed by “Labor Day (362), Christmas Day (355), Independence Day (347), Memorial Day (337) and New Year’s Day (126).” During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2013, there were 301 people killed in traffic crashes across the nation (to wit: 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 27, to 5:59 a.m. on Monday, December 2).

Last year in Ohio there were 12,526 alcohol-related crashes and 346 people lost their lives. During the 5-day Thanksgiving holiday period last year in Ohio there were 4,007 crashes resulting in 1,417 injuries and 9 deaths. Alcohol was factor in nearly half (4) of the fatal crashes during the holiday period.

Previous research by NHTSA estimates that there are nearly 10,000 deaths a year from crashes involving drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher, and impaired-driving crashes cost the country more than $50 billion per year. The night before Thanksgiving is usually a busy night at the bars.

• Never let friends drive if they have had too much alcohol to drink.

• Designate a safe and sober driver before the party begins.

• If you don’t have a designated driver, plan to call a cab or a ride share, or use public transportation.

AAA works year-round to educate the public on the dangers of impaired driving in an effort to reduce traffic-related crashes and injuries.

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