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Officials Predict Increased Road Fatalities Over Holiday
Date: July 07, 2003
With good weather predicted for most of the nation, officials expect a near-record number of motorists will take to the road this holiday weekend. AAA expects that 37.4 million people will be on the highways from Friday through Sunday — the largest number of travelers since 1994.
And with more people on the road, officials predict a record number of traffic deaths for a three-day July Fourth weekend. They also expect an increased percentage of those deaths will be caused by drunken driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 560 people will die in motor vehicle accidents this weekend. That compares with an average of 470 fatalities for a non-holiday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) in August.
According to Otis Cox, deputy administrator at the NHTSA, 55% of deaths this year will involve alcohol- or drug-impaired drivers. That percentage has risen since 1999, when 46% of the record-high 509 fatalities during the July Fourth weekend that year were linked to impaired drivers.
"This could be one of the deadliest periods ever for impaired driving fatalities," Cox said.
The predictions for the holiday weekend echo an increasing concern about drunken driving nationally. In 2002, alcohol-related crashes killed 17,970 people, the most fatalities in a decade.
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said drunken-driving accidents have been increasing, in part due to a public perception that the problem has been fixed. "The annual number has been inching upward in the last few years, without getting the media attention it once did," he said.
To combat the grim predictions, NHTSA is pushing a program called "You Drink & Drive. You Lose," which includes a television advertising campaign, an increase in sobriety checkpoints and stepped-up patrols in all 50 states.
In Minnesota, for example, state and local police are putting in overtime hours and shifting assignments to put out additional patrols. July is Minnesota's worst month for drunken-driving deaths.
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