"No county or town is safe from tragedy."
That's the message local Mothers Against Drunk Driving Coordinator Dave McConnell would like to get across, he said, and the message is especially poignant as New Year's Eve approaches.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly one-third of the state's traffic fatalities are the result of alcohol-impaired drivers, with roughly 450 people dying last year in an alcohol-related crash.
Police officers will be on the lookout during the holidays, warned Sgt. Christopher Cohn of the DUI Task Force. He said there are many programs already in place to catch drivers who are impaired, and officers look for more than just people drinking and driving.
"Usually you see alcohol [use] in combination with other things," he said, adding that police use the term "impaired driving" rather than "drunken driving."
New Year's Eve tends to make people more cautious, said Duncansville Police Chief Jim Ott, fellow task force coordinator.
He said the amount of information put before the public, combined with the officers' work, means "people are extra conscientious" on the last day of the year.
The number of arrests increases before and after the holidays, he said.
There are more alcohol-related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than at any other time of year, according to the task force.
Rather than taking an unnecessary risk, there are many resources available to allow people to party until the end of the year without having to try and sober up for the drive home, including calling for a tow.
If all else fails, McConnell said one way to absolutely make sure that no one is driving drunk, or getting into a car with someone who's drunk, is to designate a driver beforehand.
"Anybody you meet ... somebody in their family has been touched by alcohol," McConnell said.
It takes only one alcohol-related death to affect the community, he added.
Ott said partygoers should remember the selflessness that comes with the holiday spirit.
"My recommendation to anybody is, if you're going out at all ... to always, if nothing else - if you're not going to think of yourself - think of others" so that everyone can wake up the next day and enjoy the first day of the new year."
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.