HOLIDAYS ARE A TIME FOR MEMPHIS-AREA DRIVERS TO BE CAUTIOUS

The numbers surrounding car accidents at this time of year and in the Shelby County (Memphis), Tenn. area tell us that December is a time to drive extra carefully.

It may not be so surprising that New Year’s Eve is a risky night for encountering a drunk driver. The National Safety Council said this year, in fact, that the New Year’s Day holiday period (4.25 days when January 1 is on a Thursday, like in 2015) sees the highest average percentage among all holidays (43 percent) of fatal car accidents that involve a driver impaired by alcohol.

The 202 fatalities expected in drunk driving crashes over New Year’s come a week after Christmas, another 4.25-day holiday period, in which 135 fatalities blamed on drunk driving are expected, according to the NSC.

This is a bigger concern here in Memphis, perhaps, because Shelby County sees more car accident fatalities each year than any other Tennessee county. In 2014, according to TN Department of Safety and Homeland Security (www.tn.gov) statistics, there have been 107 traffic fatalities as of mid-December 2014 – more than any other county and equal to the total in the 11-county Chattanooga district.

In 2013, Shelby County had 92 traffic fatalities on the books, again the most in the state. Davidson County (Nashville) had the next-highest total, with 61 this year and 65 in 2013.

Part of the problem is explained by the fact that Memphis and Nashville are by far the largest cities and the most popular tourism destinations in the state. Tourists are more likely to be distracted by the sights and unfamiliar with roads, as well as more likely to be consuming alcohol and driving after drinking, especially after visiting night clubs for live music.

On the upside, traffic fatalities were down over Thanksgiving this year compared to last year, according to Safety and Homeland Security (news.tn.gov/node/13282). There were only four statewide, and none were alcohol-related, preliminary figures indicate. In 2013, there were 12 vehicular deaths during the 120-hour Thanksgiving holiday.

The state’s count applies to midnight Wednesday, Nov. 26 to 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 30. The NSC says the four-day Thanksgiving holiday period has the most traffic fatalities each year nationwide, with an average of 416 deaths, of which 148 are alcohol-related.

As part of the two-day I-40 Challenge, Tennessee state troopers investigated a total of 78 crashes (one alcohol-related), arrested six individuals on suspicion of impaired driving, and issued 238 seat belt citations on Interstate 40 across the state.

The I-40 Challenge is an effort to reduce traffic fatalities by stationing a patrol officer every 20 miles along the interstate over Thanksgiving throughout California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Maybe the Thanksgiving results bode well for Tennessee. If you drink this Christmas and New Year’s, please don’t drive.