The approaching holiday season produces many good memories for people, but it also presents an increase of an ever-present danger.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the days between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve accounted for 891 drunken driving deaths nationwide – 26 percent of all traffic fatalities in that time frame.
The father of Leann Lewis, a volunteer for the Heartland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), wasn't part of that specific set. But he did lose his life because of a drunken driver – one who hit his vehicle head-on on Missouri 58 in Belton in September 2008.
Lewis and representatives from the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri State Highway Patrol, NHTSA and Uber spoke outside the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena Monday to help kick off MADD's annual public awareness red-ribbon project “Tie One On For Safety.”
Officers from the highway patrol and multiple county and city law enforcement agencies brought DWI enforcement vehicles to the event.
Lewis' father was with a friend when the drunken driver crossed the center line.
“He was taken from me, his life was ended,” said Lewis, a Stilwell, Kansas, resident and a local nurse, “because someone chose to drink and drive.
“Each death, each injury, is 100 percent preventable.”
Bill Whitfield, MoDOT's director of highway safety, noted that last year in Missouri 24 of the state's 244 fatalities from alcohol-impaired crashes occurred during the holiday season.
So far this year there have been 116 fatalities from alcohol-related crashes. In 2015 there were 225, according to the NHTSA.
“It is a conscious choice, and it happens every day – not just in Missouri but everywhere,” he said. “We know there are many innocent lives ended and people injured (because of drunken driving).”
“Unfortunately with the record number of travelers comes the greater chance of being impacted by drunk driving,” added state trooper Major Greg Smith.
Illustrating the frequency of such deaths, Susan DeCourcy of the NHTSA said there are 29 of them every day in the United States.
“That's one person every 50 minutes,” she said.
Nadia Anderson, a public policy manager for the ride-sharing service Uber, said there are too many other options – having a designated driver, handing over the keys, calling for a ride, etc. – to justifiably drive while impaired.
'Whatever it takes,” she said, “just don't get on the road.”