Law enforcement agencies prep for New Year's Eve holiday

David Floyd • Updated Dec 30, 2019 at 11:11 AM

Nationwide, 973 people died in traffic crashes during the three-day New Year’s Day weekend in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

About a third of those deaths involved drunk drivers.

With Tuesday being New Year’s Eve, travel experts and law enforcement agencies are encouraging revelers to think ahead before they go out to celebrate.

In a news release, the Johnson City Police Department said it will be placing additional officers on the streets during the New Year’s holiday to keep an eye out for impaired drivers. The department said these patrols will be conducted all weekend in partnership with the Tennessee Highway Safety Office Booze It and Lose It campaign.

Tennessee’s legal blood alcohol concentration limit is .08.

“But even a slight alcoholic ‘buzz’ below that legal threshold can be unsafe for drivers and lead to their arrest for impaired driving,” the department wrote in the release. “The JCPD reminds everyone if you drive impaired, you can lose your license, your freedom or your life.”

During last year’s New Year’s Eve holiday — beginning December 30, 2018 and ending January 1, 2019 — the Johnson City Police Department said it arrested five motorists suspected of driving while impaired. 

Lt. Bill Miller, a public information officer with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, said the agency will also have more troopers patrolling over the New Year’s Eve holiday.

“Our district captains across the state have looked at their districts’ statistics and have developed enforcement plans to address the needs of their areas,” he said. “The enforcement plans will consist of sobriety, drivers license and seatbelt checkpoints. Troopers will be on patrol specifically looking for reckless and intoxicated drivers. We strongly suggest that you plan ahead and designate a safe and sober driver or ride.”

Lt. Rick Garrison with the District 5 office of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said the agency is planning for sobriety checkpoints in Hawkins and Hamblen counties on New Years Eve.

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft can be a reliable way for motorists to get home safely, but AAA also offers a service for drivers who may be too impaired to drive.

AAA’s Tow to Go service offers free transportation to drivers and their vehicles either home or somewhere safe within a 10-mile radius. The service will be available to both AAA members and non-members through 6 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 2.

Since the program began in 1998, AAA says it has removed more than 25,000 impaired drivers from the roads across the Southeast and Midwest.

“If you plan to party this holiday season, please don’t bring the party on the road," Stephanie Milani, the public affairs director for the AAA Auto Club Group, said in a statement. "With so many alternatives like ride-sharing programs, taxis and now ‘Tow to Go’, there’s no excuse for getting behind the wheel while impaired. AAA encourages people to have a plan in place to get home safely before your first drink.”

According to NHTSA, the number and percentage of car crash fatalities that involve alcohol increases each year on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

In 2017, NHTSA reports there were 10,874 alcohol-related traffic deaths — 29% of the total traffic fatalities that year. That’s an average of about 30 alcohol-related deaths per day.

On Christmas Day in 2017 there were 132 alcohol-related traffic deaths (38% of the total that day), and on New Year’s Day there were 135 alcohol-related deaths (36% of that day’s total).

July 4th, however, was the deadliest holiday for alcohol-related fatalities in 2017, totaling 235 deaths.

To cut down on excessive alcohol consumption, here are some suggestions from AAA for party hosts:

• Encourage carpooling, and give a small gift to all designated drivers as a token of appreciation for getting family and friends home safely;

• Don’t force alcoholic drinks on your guests. Serve a variety of nonalcoholic beverages;

• Serve protein-rich, starchy foods throughout the evening;

• Plan activities or games for your party. Guests engaged in activities will consume less alcohol;

• Watch for over-indulgers. Put away the alcohol when the hour gets late, and bring out the coffee and dessert;

• Have a designated driver or alternative form of transportation, like a cab or ride-share service, available to get guests home safely;

• Have guests “turn in” their keys at the door when they arrive. If someone has had too much to drink and insists on driving, there will be less of a scene if you already have his or her keys in your possession; and,

• If an impaired guest won’t listen to reason, have them sleep over or drive them home.

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