Stay sober behind the wheel

In the season of Christmas parties, it’s appropriate to once again consider the very serious dangers of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, be they illegal or prescription.

Hopefully you read and were moved by a story in Monday’s Enterprise, “Wounds time can’t heal,” in which reporter Shaun Kittle recounted stories people told last week at a victim impact panel hosted by Franklin County’s sheriff. You may have recognized some of these tales from news reports in years past, even though some of the storytellers asked not to be identified – but you probably had never heard it from these people’s perspective. They told of bad decisions they or others had made, with horrible consequences that will haunt them forever.

Their stories gripped our attention. Collected in one place, they reminded us once again why it’s such a bad idea to ever get behind the wheel of the vehicle after you’ve had even a small amount of alcohol.

Two men told how their drunk driving resulted in passengers’ deaths. Another man’s decision to drive while intoxicated seriously injured a woman in a car he hit. All three men were also terribly hurt themselves – and did jail time and/or probation.

It can’t have been easy for them to tell these painful stories, but they did it for you – to warn you not to do as they did, not to drive after you’ve been drinking or taking drugs.

For further reinforcement, let’s look at some statistics provided by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 2012 in New York, alcohol was a factor in only about 3 percent of total crashes – but nearly 31 percent of all crash-related deaths were alcohol-related. So a driver who’s been drinking is not only much more likely to crash; he or she is more than 10 times more likely to kill someone in a wreck.

In 2012, police reported 8,633 alcohol-related car crashes in New York, resulting in 358 people killed and 6,303 injuries, according to the DMV.

These numbers are much too high. Driving impaired is a horribly reckless thing to do. People who plan to drink during the holidays should travel with a designated sober driver or take a cab.

Please, please heed this warning. You don’t want to have to tell one of those stories at a future victim impact panel – or perhaps not even be alive to tell the tale.