Memorial Day is considered to be the unofficial start of the summer season. It is three-day weekend when people hit the road to enjoy the shore, camping, hiking, picnics or family gatherings.
Unfortunately, Memorial Day weekend can also be a very dangerous time on New Jersey roads. The roads tend to get crowded, which increases the risk of motor-vehicle accidents. Also, alcohol consumption makes drivers and passengers more likely to be the victims of a drunk driving accident.
According to the most recent Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash report from the New Jersey State Police (NJSP), 542 people died as a result of a fatal collision in 2013. Out of those tested for alcohol, 31.8 percent tested positive. Driving while impaired (DWI) was listed as the major contributing factor in 121 of the 508 state-wide fatal collisions.
The NJSP report also shows that, between June and August 2013, 109 vehicle collisions occurred resulting in 153 fatalities. As the following five-year chart illustrates, very little improvement has been seen in the number of vehicle-related crashes or fatalities during the summer months – except July:
Memorial Day Weekend Ranks as One of Deadliest Holidays
USA Today reports that, on average, Memorial Day weekend has 13.1 percent more traffic fatalities than any other regular, non-holiday weekend. The Monday when Memorial Day is officially recognized generally has 32 percent more fatalities than the previous three days, making it the second most deadly yearly holiday in the U.S., the newspaper reports.
The NJSP lists Memorial Day among the six most dangerous holidays in the state of New Jersey. Four people lost their lives in fatal crashes over Memorial Day weekend in 2013. The only two holidays with more fatalities that year were Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
The following chart shows how dangerous Memorial Day can be when compared with other major holidays:
|Memorial Day||Fatal crashes||7||7||8||4||4|
|Fourth of July||Fatal crashes||4||11||7||7 (1)||3 (4)|
|Fatalities||4||13||9||7 (1)||3 (4)|
|Labor Day||Fatal crashes||4||7||4||3||6|
|Christmas||Fatal crashes||3||6||7||11 (4)||2 (1)|
|Fatalities||3||6||7||11 (4)||2 (1)|
|New Year’s||Fatal crashes||0||2||7||4 (4)||0 (1)|
|Fatalities||0||2||8||4 (4)||0 (1)|
*Figures based on a three-day holiday weekend, except for Thanksgiving (four-day holiday weekend) or unless the number of days is noted in parentheses.
Drinking and Driving Contributes to Summer Auto Accidents and Fatalities
Drinking and driving is one of the key contributing factors in the high number of traffic accidents and fatalities during the summer months, starting with the Memorial Day weekend.
While the police generally set up checkpoints over the long holiday weekend, as a way of spotting potential drunk drivers and getting them off the roads, it is impossible for them to prevent all alcohol-related accidents.
In 2013, NJ.com reported that DWI arrests were down by about 30 percent from the previous year. A total of 83 suspected DWI arrests were made as compared to 117 the year before. However, as you can see in the above chart, the number of fatal collisions remained the same.
Avoid Being a Danger on the Road to Yourself and Others This Memorial Day
This Memorial Day weekend, do not become a danger on the road to yourself or others. Think first. Never get behind the wheel if you have been consuming alcohol. Start your summer off right by:
- Understanding that drinking and driving carries criminal consequences. You should realize the criminal punishment you can face if you are arrested and charged with drinking and driving.
- In New Jersey, any individual with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher is guilty of drunk driving. Even those with a BAC of less than 0.08 can face drunk driving charges if their driving abilities are negatively impacted such as if they are responsible for causing an accident.
- A first time DWI offender can face fines of up to $400, imprisonment for up to 30 days, a 90-day license suspension, mandatory attendance at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center and a vehicle insurance surcharge of $1,000 per year for three years.
- You can (and should) designate a sober driver. Before you consume any alcoholic beverages or even go out to a bar, party or activity away from home, make sure to designate a sober driver.
- If you are unable to designate a sober driver, arrange another type of transportation. If you do not have an individual who is willing or able to be a sober, responsible driver of legal age, you should make arrangements ahead of time to take another type of transportation home. You can use mass transit, call a cab, or seek out some other type of safe ride. The following are a few of the transportation options in and around New Jersey:
- You can also use either the National Directory of Designated Driver Services or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) list of sober and safe ride programs, which can be found on the AAA website.
- Never drive with an individual who has been drinking. While it is important you do not drink and drive, it is just as important that you never drive with another individual who has been drinking. Even if the individual says he or she is sober enough to drive, find some other way home.
- Spend the night wherever your activity is being held. If you are planning to travel for Memorial Day weekend, and you are planning to drink, make arrangements to spend the night in a hotel at or near where your activity is being held. This will save you the drive home and allow you to enjoy the planned activities.
- If you plan on throwing a party, do not let your guests drink and drive. Those who are planning parties over Memorial Day or during the summer months should make arrangements so their party guests will not feel inclined to drink and drive. Offer those who have had a little too much to drink a ride home or a safe place where they can sleep it off.
- Drinking and walking home is not a safe option. An alcohol-impaired person can easily become disoriented, get lost or find themselves the victim of an accident due to their impaired motor skills and judgment. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can drink and walk home.