Covering Louisiana

May 1, 2013 1:27 PM by MELISSA CANONE (PHOTO COURTESY: MGN ONLINE)

Cinco de Mayo: Have fun but don't drink & drive

Over the years, Cinco de Mayo has grown in the United States to become a popular celebration of Hispanic culture. Unfortunately, such celebrations sometimes involve consuming margaritas and other alcoholic beverages, then driving.

The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission cautions Cinco de Mayo celebrants to make certain they have a safe ride home if they plan to consume alcohol. The Commission is encouraging its law enforcement partners across Louisiana to help keep motorists and pedestrians safe through increased DWI patrols and sobriety checkpoints. The Commission provides grants to State Police and local law enforcement agencies that they use to increase patrols and conduct checkpoints during peak drunk-driving periods.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said highway deaths in Louisiana dropped from 993 in 2007 to 676 in 2011, due to a number of factors that include widespread public information campaigns and high-profile enforcement activities.

"Louisiana has made progress in reducing the number of highway deaths. We've also made gains in lowering the number of alcohol-related crash fatalities," LeBlanc said. "We believe that greater public awareness of the dangers of drunken driving, and drivers and passengers taking other safety procedures, have played a role in saving hundreds of lives."

Alcohol-involved crashes often increase over holidays and weekends. This year, Cinco de Mayo falls on a weekend, which could increase the number of people celebrating the holiday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that during the 2011 Cinco de Mayo holiday, 35 percent of motor vehicle deaths involved an alcohol-impaired driver. A disturbing 80 percent of the alcohol-impaired fatalities involved a driver or motorcycle operator with nearly twice the legal limit.

Cinco de Mayo, which means the fifth of May in Spanish, commemorates Mexico's victory in an 1862 battle with French forces. Over the years, Cinco de Mayo has grown in popularity in the U.S. as a way to celebrate Mexican heritage and pride.

NHTSA and the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission recommend the following steps for a safe Cinco de Mayo:

· If your celebration includes alcohol, make a plan before the festivities begin to ensure you arrive home safely;
· Designate a sober driver before the party begins;
· If you've been drinking, never get behind the wheel; and
· If you see a suspected drunk driver on the road, contact your local law enforcement agency.

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