During the 2019 Labor Day holiday, 46% of the drivers aged 18-34 killed in motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. As summer ends and the three-day weekend approaches, State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) and their federal and law enforcement partners are stepping up efforts to curb drunk and drug-impaired driving, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.
Taking aim at this persistent and growing safety problem, SHSOs and their partners are participating in the national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” outreach and enforcement campaign. Experts say enforcement of traffic safety laws is a proven countermeasure for changing driver behavior.
Historically, the Labor Day holiday is an especially deadly time for impaired driving, and the risks are even greater than normal this year as traffic volumes increase.
Moreover, while impaired driving has long been a hazard on the nation’s roadways, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released data that indicates increases in drunk, drugged, and multi-substance driving during the pandemic.
For example, while vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2020 decreased by about 430.2 billion miles, or about a 13.2% decrease, the fatality rate went up. Specifically, the fatality rate for 2020 was 1.37 deaths per 100 million VMT — up from 1.11 deaths per 100 million VMT in 2019.
NHTSA’s analysis put the blame for increased fatalities squarely on risky driving behaviors during the pandemic including impaired driving, speeding, and lack of seat belt compliance.
Following are just a few examples of safety initiatives various states are taking to fight alcohol and drug-impaired driving.
The Maryland Highway Safety Office is reminding motorists to ensure a sober ride home over the Labor Day weekend. These efforts will be coupled with enforcement focused on impaired driving, distracted driving, and seat belt use.
The Wisconsin Bureau of Traffic Safety is supplementing enforcement with a focus on motorcycle rider outreach through the “Dare Devils, Dare Not” campaign and promoting rider education. The state is also using a grant from GHSA and Responsibility.org to increase the number of Drug Recognition Experts that are trained to identify drug-impaired drivers in counties bordering states with legal marijuana.
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission will support enforcement with a TV, radio, digital, and social media campaign encouraging residents to talk to friends and loved ones about getting a ride after using marijuana and how everyone has a shared responsibility to keep roads safe by not driving after consuming alcohol.
The Sober Ride Indiana program, funded by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (that state’s SHSO), is offering $15 ride-hail credits to give potential drunk and drug-impaired drivers a safe way home. The program has funded more than 4,000 rides since it launched last December.
The Texas Department of Transportation is working with law enforcement partners to identify and stop suspected impaired drivers in the weeks leading up to Labor Day. After the weekend, TxDOT will focus its “Drive Sober. No Regrets.” campaign on 18- to 34-year-old males attending end-of-summer parties and college students returning to campus.
Some 10,142 people lost their lives in drunk-driving crashes in 2019 alone.