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Drunk driving discouraged at beginning of holiday season

News Photo by Julie Riddle Player’s Pub and Grub bartender Michael Precour holds a card offering a free cab ride home to anyone who needs it.

ALPENA ― Wednesday marks one of the most dangerous days of the year to drive on Michigan roads, according to sober driving advocates.

Called Blackout Wednesday by some, the day before Thanksgiving traditionally means travel and homecomings ― and, according to Allison LaPlatt, volunteer resources specialist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, more binge-drinking at local bars than any other day of the year.

Each year, the day kicks off a holiday season of increased celebrations leading to an uptick in drunk drivers on the roads, and 2021 could prove a particularly deadly year, LaPlatt said.

Celebration and safe arrivals home can go hand in hand, especially if people are ready to talk about the danger of drunk driving, she suggested.

“Have those conversations,” LaPlatt said. “Let them know you care.”

AAA predicts nearly 1.6 million Michigan residents will travel for Thanksgiving, a 14% increase over 2020.

While more drivers fill roads, alcohol consumption also increases, with revelers raising a glass to the holiday or celebrating family time.

Taking that alcohol on the road can turn deadly.

In 2019, a third of nationwide drunk driving-related deaths happened between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, LaPlatt said.

Seven people died on Michigan roads last year on the days surrounding the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve holidays.

Last year, Michigan saw an 11% jump in statewide drunk driving-related fatalities over the previous year, making 2020 the deadliest for drunk driving crash fatalities in 15 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Early 2021 numbers show people are dying on the roads at a faster rate yet, making current drunk driving stats “worse than we’ve seen in a very, very long time,” LaPlatt said.

Party hosts play a role in getting their guests home safe. Those serving alcohol can ask each guest their plan for making it home safely and offer “mocktails” to let designated drivers join in on the celebration, LaPlatt suggested.

Developing a culture that rejects drunk driving starts with conversations that encourage those who choose to reject driving intoxicated. Such conversations, LaPlatt said, hold friends and loved ones to a high standard that discourages drinking and driving.

“And you are better,” LaPlatt said. “You’re better than that.”

At Player’s Pub and Grub in Alpena, bartender Michael Precour said the bar will be packed wall to wall Wednesday evening.

For Thanksgiving, as for other holidays, Huron Distributors has provided bars with cards offering a free cab ride home to anyone who needs it. Some Player’s bartenders have taken keys from patrons too drunk to drive, Precour said.

People selling the drinks want their customers to get home safely, he said, “so they can come back the next day.”

Police hope Northeast Michiganders enjoy the upcoming holiday season, including alcohol consumption for those who choose it, said 1st Lt. John Grimshaw, commander of the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post.

“Just don’t enjoy it so much that you endanger other people on the road,” Grimshaw said.

Thanksgiving weekend includes college football games, a Friday off of work for many people, the tail end of deer hunting season, and holiday shopping outings. Roads will be busy, and people will be in celebratory moods ― or, if their team loses, ready to drown their sorrows ― and police don’t want to have to stop drunk drivers or, worse, respond to crashes they cause, Grimshaw said.

“Listen. Don’t be dumb and drink and drive,” Grimshaw said. “It’s not worth it. We just want to get you home safe to your families.”

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