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Avoiding impaired driving during the holiday season

December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.

MAINE, USA — Many Americans will be driving to gather with family and friends for holiday celebrations in the coming weeks.

This time of year can be a difficult period for driving, which is why officials on the local and national levels are trying to raise awareness.

December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,142 people died in crashes related to drunk driving in 2019. 

That averages about one person dying every 52 minutes. The NHTSA said 837 of those deaths happened in December alone, and 210 of them took place during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.

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“It’s really important when you get behind the wheel that you’re prepared to take on all of the rigorous responsibilities that come with driving,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said. 

Chase said impaired driving is 100 percent preventable. She added it’s also essential for everyone on the road to be alert and on guard.

“When you’re behind the wheel, make sure you’re driving defensively. Be very aware of the cars around you,” Chase said. “If you see someone is weaving or looks like they’re impaired in some way, give a great amount of distance, and stay away from the vehicle. Also, it’s crucial that everyone in the vehicle is buckled up.”

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On Thursday, the Portland Police Department issued a notice urging caution among drivers. The notice came after they issued four citations for operating under the influence in just three hours between Dec. 10 and 11. 

Authorities said those drivers either crashed their vehicles, were speeding, almost hit pedestrians, tried to flee scenes, or drove through red lights and closed construction areas. The drivers had been using alcohol, marijuana, or a mixture of drugs, according to police.

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Paul Merrill, director of communications for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the department plans to fill its holiday highway message boards with a mix of funny and serious messages. 

He said the goal of these clever signs is to start a conversation among drivers and perhaps make someone think twice about getting behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs.

“People think that bad things are not going to happen to them. They think they can get behind the wheel after having two or three drinks, and they’re okay to drive,” Merrill said. “I guess I would ask, ‘Do you want to risk that? Do you want to risk the potential life-changing and life-ending consequences? Do you want to risk getting pulled over?’”

Merrill said a high number of pedestrians were killed this year. He added people walking, and biking can try to stay safe by wearing brightly-colored and reflective clothing.

“We do want people to be aware if you’re behind the wheel, you’re operating a moving vehicle that could easily kill somebody,” Merrill said.

RELATED: $4 million road improvement project in the works in Newport

To read more from the NHTSA, click here.

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