Police say Thanksgiving to year’s end worst time of year for drunken driving |

Police say Thanksgiving to year’s end worst time of year for drunken driving

The holiday with the worst reputation for impaired driving is New Year’s Eve.

Image isn’t always reality, say law enforcement officials and groups that combat impaired driving.

According to PennDOT, the days around Thanksgiving — rather than Christmas or New Year’s — have the highest rates of crashes related to alcohol, and the five weeks of staggered holiday and office parties between Thanksgiving and the end of the year are especially taxing for law enforcement agencies.

“There is a lot more traveling. People tend to go out more, whether it’s to a friend or family member’s house or an office party,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police.

The 35 to 40 days between Thanksgiving and the end of the year keep officers busy, said William Westerman, police chief in Adams, Butler County.

“We patrol as much as we can. People drink and drive, when they shouldn’t, all year. We see it at golf outings. But there does seem to be more impaired driving around the winter holidays,” he said.

In 2013, there were 551 crashes in Pennsylvania during the week of Thanksgiving, a nine-day period that starts the Saturday before the holiday and ends on the following Sunday.

That compares with 200 such accidents during the same period at Christmas 2013 and 186 accidents at the same period before New Year’s.

“During the week of Thanksgiving, there is much higher volume of traffic. That’s one factor in the higher number of accidents,” said Cathy Tress, Western Pennsylvania liaison for the Pennsylvania DUI Association, a nonprofit organization that works to address DUI prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.

Tress says there’s a stigma attached to drunken driving.

“Education has improved things. People now look down on someone arrested for a DUI,” she said.

In Pennsylvania in 2013, there were 11,041 alcohol-related crashes, down from 11,805 in 2012. There were 384 alcohol-related highway deaths in 2013 in Pennsylvania, down from 404 in 2012.

Identifying impaired driving is complicated by drivers who are under the influence of drugs, not alcohol. The drugs include marijuana, heroin, cocaine and prescribed medications such as sleep aids and painkillers, Reed said.

A breath test will detect alcohol-impared drivers, but there’s no similar test to identify people under the influence of drugs. Police have to rely on blood tests, which can take several weeks to get results.

“Troopers are becoming better at recognizing symptoms of drug impairment,” Reed said. “You can tell they are impaired. They are not interacting as a sober person would.”

When impairment is suspected, police departments can rely on the expertise of a drug recognition officer to immediately take the driver off the road and file charges.

“They can be called as needed,” said Mt. Lebanon police Lt. Duane Fischer, grant coordinator for the 10-department Mt. Lebanon area DUI task force.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.