Silver bells or funeral bells?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

On the road, it’s also one of the deadliest times of the year.

As the holiday season swings into high gear, the state Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter wants to remind people to take a few precautions to make things safer for everyone and maybe even save someone’s life.

Their advice? It’s one most adults have heard before — Don’t drink and drive. And always buckle up.

While the message may be familiar, that doesn’t make it any less relevant, according to Dorothy Chaney, the state executive director of MADD.

“The decision to drink is a private one,” she said. “The decision to drink and drive is a very public one — that in a moment can cause complete devastation.”

Chaney was one of several speakers at MADD’s kickoff of its annual “Tie One On for Safety” holiday ribbon campaign last week.

A Nov. 21 press conference, held at Midway Ford in Roseville, was aimed at raising awareness and continuing the campaign to reduce drunken driving at a time when it traditionally increases.

According to MADD, there are nearly 17,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities each year — an average of one nearly every half hour. Another 500,000 people are injured annually.

In Minnesota last year, 177 people died in alcohol-related crashes. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, a period when people travel more, there were 536 crashes and 20 alcohol-related fatalities in the state last year.

For many, like Minneapolis Police Chief Bill McManus, who spoke at the press conference, the problem hits close to home.

McManus’ 2-year-old niece was killed in an accident caused by an intoxicated driver.

He also told the crowd that when he was a high school student, he avoided a deadly crash involving alcohol only because there wasn’t enough space for him in the car with his friends.

“Think about your families. Think about other people’s families before you get behind the wheel after you drink,” McManus said.

There are some signs of progress, said Kathy Swanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

In 1980, when MADD first was formed, 863 traffic fatalities were recorded in the state, Swanson said. Of those killed, 69 percent tested positive for alcohol.

Last year 567 people were killed on the state’s roadways, and only 35 percent were found to be intoxicated.

Seat-belt usage has been shown to save lives as well, which is why MADD also is pushing for a primary seat-belt law in Minnesota.

From 1975 through 2003, it is estimated that seat belts saved nearly 180,000 lives, according to MADD statistics.

Lynne Goughler, the legislative chair for MADD Minnesota, said that while statistics have improved nationwide, the state has seen drunken driving go up and down over the years.

Goughler got involved with the organization after her parents were run down by an inebriated driver in New Mexico 13 years ago, just before they were supposed to visit her for Thanksgiving.

“They shared their lives together, but in the blink of an eye they were taken by a person who chose to drink and drive.

“We’re not against drinking,” Goughler added. “Just find yourself a designated driver.”

Comment Here