The high incidence of drunk driving that accompanies Labor Day weekend once prompted Forbes magazine to rank it among America’s “Most Dangerous Holidays.” And Mississippi ranks well above the national average for accidents involving drunk drivers.
In a study that measured alcohol-involved traffic deaths between 2003 and 2012, the CDC found that, when adjusted for population, Mississippians between the ages of 21 and 31 were almost twice as likely to die in traffic accidents related to drunk drivers than their peers nationally.
“Labor Day weekend is a time for Mississippians to enjoy family and friends,” said Melinda McGrath, executive director of the Department of Transportation. “However, as you are making your Labor Day plans, be sure to designate a driver in advance for your safety and the safety of others.”
Couple that with the start of football season and fans traveling across the state to attend games and there is potential for real danger on Mississippi’s roads this weekend.
Corporal Tony Dunn of Highway Patrol Troop D in Greenwood said, “More than likely, we’re going to have some driver license check points set up throughout the districts to check and see that everybody is driving with their driver’s license, checking for insurance — plus we’ll be looking for people driving under the influence of alcohol.”
“We plan on working hand in hand with local and county forces to keep everybody safe out there,” Dunn said.
According to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, 26 percent of all traffic deaths in the state were from accidents involving drunk drivers.
Data from 2015 from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety shows that 162 people were killed and another 957 were injured in crashes involving alcohol in the state. Another 219 people were injured in crashes involving a driver impaired by substances other than alcohol, the data show.
“There will be a lot of overtime enforcement details over the weekend,” said Master Sergeant Criss Turnipseed of Highway Patrol Troop G in Starkville. “That will give us some extra manpower as for as coverage and enforcement go. Each district across the state will assign troopers to key travel corridors and traffic areas. They will maintain a high presence there, being seen, out enforcing the law.”
Though the country saw two decades of decreases in drivers involved in fatal crashes, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that between 2005 and 2014 there has been relatively little change in the number of crashes that involved drunk drivers.
In the United States, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content at or above 0.08. On first offense of driving under the influence of alcohol in Mississippi, the driver’s license is suspended for 90 days with no chance of privileges being restored until the end if that time period.
Also, ignition interlocks are mandatory for all convicted offenders in Mississippi. The ignition interlock system is akin to a breathalyzer, requiring drivers to blow beneath 0.08 in order to start the engine.
Despite the high number of alcohol-related accidents, only 1.2 percent of Mississippians reported driving after drinking too much, compared to 1.9 percent nationally.
“You’ll have a great deal of troopers, actually working the instate football game tomorrow,” Turnipseed said. “But those are heavy traffic areas with a lot of folks driving there. We’ll do pretty much the same thing we do every holiday weekend — especially since this one corresponds with opening of football season. We expect a lot of traffic, and we expect to manage it. “