Drunk drivers on Mardi Gras make it deadliest state holiday

Updated: Feb. 28, 2011 at 3:11 PM CST
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The following is a news release from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission:

BATON ROUGE – Everybody knows of the great, favorable economic impact Mardi Gras has on Louisiana and how the carnival celebrations help attract thousands of tourists to our state. Less known, however, is that Mardi Gras has traditionally ranked among the most dangerous holiday periods for Louisiana motorists.

In 2009, Mardi Gras ranked as the deadliest holiday period in Louisiana with 22 people killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes. The Mardi Gras period, well known for the heavy partying that surrounds it, also results in a high percentage of alcohol involved crashes. Last year 68 percent of the Mardi Gras holiday deaths occurred in alcohol-involved crashes—well above the annual state average of 48 percent alcohol involvement in fatal crashes.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, is warning motorists that State Police and many local police departments and sheriffs' offices will be out in force over the Mardi Gras period removing drunk drivers from the roads and checking for other violations. These enforcement agencies will be working overtime hours financed through grants provided by the Commission.

"We focus many of our efforts on periods when there are likely to be higher numbers of violators and crashes, and Mardi Gras is certainly one of those periods," LeBlanc said. "There's no question that the combination of increased enforcement accompanied by public education campaigns is effective in saving lives."

In recent years, the Louisiana Legislature has passed a number of laws that increase penalties for DWI convictions. A DWI arrest can result in jail time, lawyer's fees, fines, driving restrictions, increased insurance costs and many other serious consequences.

Average traffic crash fatality rates for holidays during the 2008-2009 period are as follows:

Mardi Gras: 19.0 deaths, 68.5 percent were alcohol related

Memorial Day: 10.5 deaths, 66.4 percent were alcohol related

Fourth of July: 5.0 deaths, 62.5 percent were alcohol related

Labor Day: 8.0 deaths, 70.9 percent were alcohol related

Halloween: 14.5 deaths, 76.5 percent were alcohol related

Thanksgiving: 18.0 deaths, 31.2 percent were alcohol related

Christmas: 9.0 deaths, 26.7 percent were alcohol related

New Year: 3.0 deaths, 30.0 percent were alcohol related