Numbers favor holiday moderation

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If asked which holiday has the highest frequency of alcohol-related fatalities, you would most likely and with great conviction say New Year's Eve or the Fourth of July ... but you would be wrong. It is Thanksgiving.

Last year, over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, nearly 400 people -- about the number of passengers on a fully loaded Boeing 747-- were killed in traffic collisions, most involving alcohol.

As we approach the season of family get-togethers and office parties, it is time to take a sober look at how we take care of our friends, family and co-workers. Speaking as someone who has been called to the crash scene of nearly every traffic fatality in Walla Walla over the past 30 years, I have an indelible sense of the anguish and despair that was present at those scenes. However, that is just the beginning of a long journey traveled by survivors and loved ones. Nearly all these fatal collisions involved alcohol that led to the death of people under 30.

Despite the 40,000 drunken drivers arrested by law enforcement officers in Washington state each year, there are still around 250 people killed in alcohol-involved collisions. These numbers reflect the magnitude of the alcohol-related problems in our state, so officers will be out in extra force through New Year's Day looking for those drivers under the influence. But enforcement is only part of the answer.

If you are going to host a get-together where alcohol is going to be served, take on the additional responsibility of providing a designated driver. Seriously consider an alcohol-free party.

Law enforcement officers will tell you Thanksgiving is a holiday fraught with domestic problems, most fueled by a combination of overimbibing and that family member who isn't usually the first choice when making up a guest list. If someone already has a drinking problem, one can show support by sticking to non-alcoholic beverages.

Another consideration is for those who drink infrequently, but find themselves at a party not realizing how much is too much. These people may find it doesn't take much alcohol to negatively affect them, and if they are drinking over several hours, they may not realize how intoxicated they are.

Here are some suggestions on how to have a fun and entertaining party without focusing on alcohol.

Have lots of food available, preferably not high in salt, which encourages drinking.

If there are children present, remember that you are a role model, and they are watching you.

Provide plenty of non-alcoholic beverages for designated drivers and those who prefer not to drink alcohol.

If you prepare an alcoholic punch, use a non-carbonated base, like fruit juice. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream faster with a carbonated base.

Choose a reliable bartender who doesn't drink and can track the size and number of drinks that guests consume. Remember, most people believe they can handle their drinking just fine, but those 40,000 drivers arrested for DUI last year prove that is not always the case.

Stop serving alcohol one hour before the party ends, and if some guests have had too much to drink, arrange for their transportation home. This shouldn't be too difficult, as more than half of all Americans do not drink alcohol.

Have a safe and happy holiday.

Capt. Gary Bainter is Patrol Division commander for the Walla Walla Police Department. He can be reached at gbainter@ci.walla-walla.wa.us or 524-4372.

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