ST. MARYS — According to AAA, alcohol contributed to 12,880 crashes and 368 deaths on Ohio’s roads in 2011.
More alcohol-related crashes occurred in December than any other month. New Year’s proved to be dangerous, with 64 alcohol-related crashes on Dec. 31, 2011, and 103 alcohol-related crashes on Jan. 1.
According to a December 2012 report by the National Transportation Safety Board, approximately 60 percent of wrong-way crashes are related to alcohol consumption.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said he believed many drunk drivers don’t set out to commit a crime. Many believe they can hold their alcohol better than they can, or they see friends that are much more impaired and want to help them by driving for them.
“They’re trying in some cases to do the right thing,” he said.
While the legal blood alcohol limit is .08, Solomon said he doesn’t recommend anyone drive, especially in this weather, after even one drink.
Solomon also said he believed people are doing a better job of designating drivers, and places offering New Year’s celebrations are trying to provide transport or sleeping areas for customers. He also thinks more people are celebrating at home.
While Solomon said deputies are aware of the day and its dangers, he wants people to know deputies don’t enjoy arresting people, and they don’t plan in advance to pull people over.
“I’m sure people don’t want to see us, and we don’t want to see them,” Solomon said. He said deputies typically look for weaving, head or taillights out, speeding, and making incomplete stops before initiating a traffic stop.
St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven said drunk driving is less about a plan to drive, and more the result of poor planning.
“I don’t know of anyone that plans to get drunk and drive,” Foxhoven said. “Two beers turns into four beers then six beers.
People can be reluctant to call friends and family after midnight for transportation, and opt to risk driving home. Some of them get home, some get pulled over, and some get in accidents. Some people don’t know they’ve had too much alcohol to drive, and many are first time offenders who normally don’t drink or socialize.
“If you have to stop and wonder if you’ve had too much, you’ve probably had too much,” Foxhoven said.
Foxhoven said police officers will be out in force on New Year’s Eve with an increase in manpower for patrols.
For Carl, who asked not to be mentioned by last name because of his affiliation with AA, drinking and driving on New Year’s was something a person didn’t even think about — in fact, drinking and driving wasn’t something he remembers well because he said he often blacked out while drinking. He said he was lucky to have never caused an accident or had legal problems because of the drinking.
“At times I didn’t think about it, I just drove,” he said. “I wouldn’t even remember the next day.” New Year’s Eve, he said, was referred to by the regular drinking crowd as “amateur night” because of the large number of people drinking who normally didn’t. The holidays are hard for people, he said, because of the stress of the season, sometimes the depression, and because it can give people an excuse to drink, if they feel like they need one.
“I always had to have a reason,” Carl said. “Happy, sad, promotion, no promotion. It’s hard for people to understand.”
After nine years sober, and time spent mentoring others through alcoholism, Carl said he is glad he didn’t have to have the injury of other people on his conscience to help him wake up.