Residents should respect laws while celebrating Fourth

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   As many people across this state prepare to celebrate the birth of our nation, individuals who plan on including alcoholic beverages as a part of their revelries are asked to be safe and refrain from driving after consuming alcoholic beverages.
   In 2001, the holiday period which had the highest percentage of traffic fatality accidents related to alcohol consumption was the Fourth of July. In that year, 127 of the 206 traffic accidents across the nation that claimed a life were related to alcohol, a number that translates into 61.8 percent of those accidents which occurred during a 48 hour period. While other holidays during that year experience more accidents, the largest percentage of accidents related to drinking occurred on Independence Day.
   In Tennessee, the Fourth of July holiday comes just days after a new law lowering the legal limit for blood alcohol content went into effect. "Almost 18,000 people are killed in the United States in alcohol-related crashes each year with another half million injured," said Nancy Denning, the executive director for MADD (Mother's Against Drunk Driving) Tennessee. "That number has risen for each of the last three years, and MADD Tennessee is hopeful that the new 0.08 law can help reverse that trend.
   In Tennessee alone, 1,251 individuals died in traffic fatalities in 2001. Of those individuals, 43 percent were killed in traffic accidents that were alcohol-related.
   "In 2001, 537 Tennesseans were killed in alcohol-related crashes. Tens of thousands more were injured," Denning states on the organization's website. "Each death and injury was 100 percent preventable."
   Laws can help lower the number of intoxicated drivers on the roadways, but it will take a personal commitment to stop the increasing problem. "Impaired driving deaths are easy to stop. Don't drink and drive," Denning said. "But until drivers start making smarter and safer choices, laws like 0.08 are needed to save lives."
   According to Denning, many people hold misconceptions about how much alcohol must be consumed to reach a BAC (blood alcohol content) level of 0.08. The average 170 pound man must consume four or more drinks in less than an hour on an empty stomach to achieve a 0.08 BAC level, Denning said. A standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or one-and-a-half ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
   "Certainly, alcohol affects each person differently, but for the average person to reach 0.08, we're talking about the quick consumption of a lot of alcohol," Denning said. "I don't know anyone who wants to ride with or drive next to a 0.08 driver."
   Officials at MADD Tennessee urge those celebrating the holiday to make responsible choices before the party begins. They recommend that party-goers choose a designated driver.
   For those who are hosting parties, the organization recommends that the host choose a location which they do not plan to leave, provide plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and food, monitor the consumption of guests, and stop serving alcoholic beverages at least one hour before the party ends.