PennDOT, police start “Operation Safe Holiday”

By Gretchen Andersen

High rates of car accidents during the Thanksgiving holiday have led the Pennsylvania Department… High rates of car accidents during the Thanksgiving holiday have led the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to crack down on dangerous driving conditions.

In an effort to make the roads safer, PennDOT has repeatedly paired with police across Pennsylvania to run Operation Safe Holiday, an aggressive effort to keep drivers safe from drunk driving during the holiday seasons. The program started on Nov. 18 and will run throughout December and January.

Last year, a total of 4,380 crashes and 55 fatalities were reported statewide between the weekends before and after Thanksgiving — the highest rate of crashes throughout the year. Of that number, 535 accidents were alcohol-related, making up 22 percent of the total number of alcohol-related crashes in 2010.

Attorney Michael Rosenzweig, a partner at Edgar Snyder & Associates and adjunct professor at Pitt Law, said it’s good that police will increase watchfulness to keep people safe.

“I have seen numerous horrendous cases as a result of high school and college kids getting together over the holidays and underage drinking,” said Rosenzweig, who represents people who are hurt by drunk drivers. “There are unintended consequences that can happen on your way home or at night when driving. You can kill someone or hurt yourself.”

PennDOT encourages students in particular to plan ahead and avoid drinking and getting behind the wheel during the upcoming break. Police will use sobriety checkpoints, roving patrols and regular traffic safety patrols to crack down on motorists who are speeding, driving aggressively or driving while impaired.

The number of crashes that occur during the Christmas and New Year travel periods are nearly half of those recorded during Thanksgiving. PennDOT reports that last year during that time, there were a combined 2,035 crashes and 19 fatalities in the state.

Rosenzweig acknowledged some of the reasons students might get behind the wheel after drinking.

“You have a lot of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who will come home from college and see their friends and drink,” Rosenzweig said. “They often come back with more access to cars than they had at college. There’s a lot more people drinking on the road. Also, many people throw annual holiday parties that include alcohol.”

Rosenzweig also wants students to be aware of the consequences from selling alcohol to people underage.

“If you are over 21 and you supply alcohol to a minor, you are legally responsible for their injuries, or if they go out and hurt someone else. You can get arrested; the fines are very steep,” he said.

Rosenzweig advises students with four “dos and dont’s”: Don’t get behind the wheel after drinking, don’t get in a car with someone who has been drinking, do have a buddy system and don’t give alcohol to people under 21.

“Holiday season is a really bad time with a lot of drinking and driving. The best thing you can do if you drink is to take a cab or stay put,” Rosenzweig said.

Edgar Snyder & Associates sponsors a “Don’t Drink and Drive Pledge” on their Facebook page where students can sign up and get a chance to earn giveaway prizes such as cameras, Rosenzweig said. The next drawing is Jan. 2.

“With this Facebook pledge, if you pledge not to drink, maybe that will keep you safe and sober this holiday,” Rosenzweig said.

Morgan Smith, a junior, said students should drink responsibly and know their limits.

“They should plan to stay wherever they go out at night,” Smith said.

Junior Matt Kaplan noted how drunk driving could result in unfortunate events.

“It is possibly the stupidest thing you could do. You are risking your life, everyone in the car’s lives and the people on the road,” Kaplan said.

Freshman Sam Wolf agreed.

“Drunk driving can be easily avoided,” he said.