Call a cab, stay the night, just stay off the road

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008

During an alcohol awareness assembly at Kenai Central High School last year, Kelly George of the Kenai Police Department described a gruesome Christmas Day accident scene.

At the time of the accident, George was in his second year as a police officer and didn't have enough seniority to get the day off. A 911 call came in about an accident involving four young men. The driver, who was determined to have been driving drunk, had taken a 25-mph turn at more than 80 mph and collided head-on with a pickup truck.

George graphically described the accident scene; how he encountered the first body lying twisted and broken in the middle of the road; how the driver's seat had been pushed into the right passenger's seat; how one body was hanging half in and half out of the vehicle; and how the fourth victim was sitting in the middle of the back seat, staring straight ahead, his spinal cord severed.

"I didn't even know there was a fifth guy there, until we cut the roof off," George said.

The numbers are sobering. In 2007, more than 34 percent of all traffic fatalities in Alaska were alcohol-related. In 2005 and 2006, there was a decrease in driving under the influence arrests statewide, but that number jumped in 2007, up about 7 percent to 5,588.

On the central Kenai Peninsula, Kenai and Soldotna police each arrest around 100 impaired drivers each year.

Our roads are dangerous enough with ice, snow, long hours of darkness and frequent crossings by large animals. Adding drunk drivers to the list is just plain senseless.

Local law enforcement and bar operators each play a role in keeping impaired drivers off the road. More officers will be on patrol during the holidays, thanks to highway safety grants. Bartenders are trained to know when to say when for a patron, if they're not able to do it for themselves. A new law which goes into effect Jan. 1 will further limit drunk drivers by requiring an ignition interlock to be installed in vehicles driven by DUI offenders.

But there's only so much police and bartenders can do; individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, sober or not.

People don't set out with the goal of driving drunk, said Kenai officer Jay Sjogren. "They're not a bad person, they make poor decisions," Sjogren said.

Over the next 10 days, as friends and family gather for the holidays, many celebrations will include alcohol. If you find yourself at one of those celebrations, it's OK to enjoy yourself.

But please, if you're planning to drink, make a good decision and stay off the road. Have a designated driver. Call a friend. Call a cab. Stay the night. If a fellow party-goer has had too much, do whatever it takes to make sure they stay off the road.

The statistics are bad enough. Let's make sure we do all we can not to add to them this holiday season.

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