Green beer is a St. Patrick’s Day tradition but the red and blue lights afterward don’t have to be.

For decades, Americans across the country have come together to celebrate the Irish heritage, often with drinks and community festivities, but all the merry-making can lead to dangerous driving conditions as party-goers head home. In 2017 alone, 59 people were killed in drunken driving-related crashes over the St. Paddy’s Day holiday period, from 6 p.m. March 16 to 5:59 a.m. March 18.

“The selfish act of drinking and driving can rip people from their friends and loved ones forever,” said Peg Buda, Williams County Health District’s Safe Communities coordinator. “Even one drink can be one too many. If you’re heading out for the Irish festivities, plan ahead and remember: buzzed driving is drunk driving.”

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that during the 2017 St. Patrick’s Day holiday period, 37 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities involved drunken drivers. The early hours of March 18, 2017, were the most dangerous. Between midnight and 5:59 a.m., 75 percent of all crash fatalities involved drunken drivers.

From 2013-17, 35 percent of the drunken-driving fatalities during this holiday period involved drivers who had blood-alcohol concentrations well above the .08 limit, with 234 drunken-driving fatalities total.

“Drivers should also keep an eye out for pedestrians who have had too much to drink,” Buda said. “Walking while intoxicated can also be deadly, as lack of attention to their surroundings could put pedestrians at risk of getting hit by a vehicle.

“St. Patrick’s Day should be a fun holiday for our community members, but we expect everyone to take responsibility for their actions,” Buda said. “Whether you’re driving yourself or your friends, make sure you stay sober or plan for a sober ride home. It’s not just about you. There are other people on the roads who want to get where they are going safely. If you feel a buzz, you are in no shape to drive. If you feel different, you drive different. It’s that simple.”

This holiday season, Williams County Safe Communities Coalition and NHTSA urge drivers to designate a sober driver before heading out for the evening. If you plan on drinking, plan on not driving.

If you don’t have a ride reserved, you can download NHTSA’s SaferRide mobile app, available on Google Play for Android devices and Apple’s iTunes Store for iOS devices. SaferRide allows users to call a taxi or a predetermined friend and identifies the user’s location so he or she can be picked up.

If you see a drunken driver on the road, contact one of your local law enforcement agencies.

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