ANNAPOLIS – About half of the traffic deaths in Maryland over Thanksgiving weekend will be alcohol related, a very preventable tragedy, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John White.
While there may be fewer drunken drivers on the roads — Maryland drunken driving arrests have fallen about 1 percent in the last seven years, amid increases in population and enforcement — Thanksgiving is still the third-deadliest holiday of the year.
During Thanksgiving weekend 2002, there were 255 people killed nationally in drunken-driving accidents. There were 543 traffic deaths overall, said Harold Rohrback, Drinking Driving Monitor with the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation.
Known as the busiest travel season of the year, Thanksgiving will be no exception this year, White said. AAA predicts 615,000 Marylanders will hit the roads for the holiday.
“All you have to do is show up at a local (high school) football game to know that kids come home from college and it’s a party atmosphere. It’s worse given a lot of people are traveling on the roads,” said Stacy Kurnot, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Maryland.
Alcohol-related traffic deaths spike on holidays or on popular party days, said Rohrback, who has worked with drunken driving offenders for 13 years.
“The holidays are parties — the day of, the day before and the day after,” and parties have alcohol, said Rohrback.
Super Bowl Sunday had the highest proportion of drunken-driving deaths nationally for a single day in 2002, with 86 of 147 total traffic deaths caused by drunken drivers, said the Drinking Driving Monitor program.
Public places, like bars, are common reunion locations, according to police, MADD and bar owners.
Marc Boyd, general manager of Mother’s Federal Hill Grille in Baltimore, said the bar crowd swells on the days before and after Thanksgiving, but that staff is trained not to over serve alcohol and to help patrons hail cabs when necessary.
Security officers are brought in for the bar’s busiest nights.
“We have already booked our banquet room upstairs with holiday parties from now through the end of the year,” Boyd said. An informal reunion of 40 people called to say they plan to come to Mother’s on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he said.
“Luckily we’re fortunate that most . . . regulars are from the neighborhood and just walk home,” Boyd said.
Matt Perlman, owner of Willie and Reeds sports bar in Bethesda, said the holidays bring many people back into town and they congregate out at bars and restaurants.
Willie and Reeds is closed Thanksgiving Day, “but the bar will be packed on the Wednesday before it and the Friday after it,” he said.
Two high school reunions, are scheduled back to back at Willie and Reeds on Saturday.
The bar’s servers have completed TIPS training, or Training for Intervention Procedures, which teaches them to prevent patrons from becoming too intoxicated and to call cabs, or police, when they are too drunk.
“You have to be aware of who you are serving. They could have had six drinks before they got here,” Perlman said.
State Police and local law enforcement say they are prepared for the holiday party season.
Across the state, police are adding extra patrols and say they will be especially watching for impaired, aggressive and inexperienced drivers.
There is at least one sobriety checkpoint a week somewhere around the state, said Annie Powell of the State Highway Administration Highway Safety Office.
Prince George’s County Police will host sobriety checkpoints between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and will have additional officers looking for young and impaired drivers, said police spokeswoman Barbara Hamm.
In Montgomery County, where 11 recent teen traffic deaths have made headlines and where in at least one instance alcohol was a factor, Montgomery County Police say they are taking the holiday driving dangers seriously.
The department has invited seven agencies to join in its 2004 Holiday Impaired Driving Task Force, which will add extra officers and volunteers to monitor impaired and aggressive driving, said Montgomery County Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur.
The program is also an outreach to parents. Police are asking parents not to host, or allow their children to attend, parties where alcohol is available.