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“Abuse the booze and you will lose.”

More than 16,000 drivers in North Carolina heard that tune in 2010.

Highway safety campaigns in North Carolina last year resulted in more than 600,000 traffic and criminal citations. Of those charges, 16,000 were driving-while-impaired arrests. The most – nearly 4,000 – came during a statewide “Booze It & Lose It” effort conducted during the end-of-year holiday season.

N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said the campaigns save lives and educate citizens. The efforts include campaigns focused on drivers under the influence, and those who violate laws on seat belts, child safety, speeding and work-zone safety.

Statistics bear out Conti’s statement. Sobriety checkpoints are a big part of the campaigns. Sobriety checkpoints consistently reduce alcohol–related crashes, typically by about 20 percent.

Still, the problem is huge. North Carolina, sadly, ranked 5th in the nation in alcohol impaired motor vehicle-fatalities in 2008, with 423 deaths. Virginia didn’t fair that much better, ranking 14th with 294 people killed. (The state with the most DWI fatalities was Texas; the lowest was Vermont.)

And alcohol-related wrecks are particularly severe and likely to be deadly. Accident reconstruction investigations often find that an impaired driver failed to brake hard or take other emergency action when a collision was about to happen. Braking and swerving can turn a head-on impact into a glancing collision that saves lives. An intoxicated driver is far more likely to be unable to execute these maneuvers. In addition, alcohol often triggers aggressive and reckless driving, resulting in high-speed crashes.

In 2008, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving wrecks, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those 11,773 fatalities in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes during 2008 represent an

average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 45 minutes.

So remember the name of that tune, as one Virginia police department puts it: “Abuse booze and you will lose.”

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