Alaska State Troopers and the Kenai Police Department are beefing up their patrols for St. Patrick’s Day, one of the biggest drinking days of the year.
“The fact that it lands on a Friday this year has us concerned,” said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesperson for troopers. “We’re not anti-partying or anti-green beer ... we’re anti-drinking and driving.”
He said troopers are encouraging everyone to have a good time, but also to act responsibly by designating a sober driver or taking a taxi.
Troopers throughout the peninsula will be working extra hours on St. Patrick’s Day in marked and unmarked vehicles to help prevent drinking and driving accidents, said Capt. Tom Bowman of troopers.
Bowman, who has worked for troopers throughout the state for more than 30 years, said that based on his experience, he would rank St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July as the two biggest holidays for drinking and driving.
On St. Patrick’s Day in 2004, 45 percent of all car accident fatalities in the country were alcohol-related.
He said he would rank New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl as the next two biggest events for drinking and driving.
Whereas New Year’s is sometimes celebrated as a family holiday and warm weather on the Fourth of July encourages outdoor activities such as camping, St. Patrick’s Day stands out as drinking and driving risk because there are few other activities associated with it beyond drinking, Bowman said.
“You’ll have a couple of parades earlier in the day and then it turns into a drinking holiday,” he said.
“It’s a tremendous problem for us.”
But Bowman also said he believes residents of the Kenai Peninsula are more responsible with respect to drinking and driving than some other areas of Alaska.
“I think our folks are just smarter than the rest of the state,” he said.
Alaska overall has historically produced a high percentage of alcohol-related roadway fatalities.
Before the state began concentrated publicity and enforcement campaigns in 2002 to target drinking and driving, the state’s percentage of alcohol-related fatalities was well above the national average, Wilkinson said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 53 percent of all roadway fatalities in the state in 2001 were alcohol-related.
But by 2004, after concentrated campaigning began, the percent of roadway fatalities related to alcohol dropped to 31 percent.
“That’s more in line with the rest of the country,” Wilkinson said.
Due to its historically high percentage of alcohol-related fatalities on the road, Alaska is one of just 15 states that has been designated a sustained enforcement state, a state in which federal grants sustain an enforcement campaign targeting drinking and driving throughout the year.
In 2004, drinking and driving accidents killed 16,694 Americans, according to NHTSA.
The additional officer and trooper patrols are paid for by a federal grant from the NHTSA distributed by Alaska Highway Safety Office.
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