For drivers, July 4 is a dangerous day


Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus L. Brown, left, and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, right, along with Maryland state officials and law enforcement agencies launch SPIDRE (State Police Impaired Driving Effort), which includes a team of state troopers focused on reducing the number of alcohol-related crashes, on Tuesday in Jessup, Md. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

For many people, Independence Day means fireworks and barbecues. For drivers, it means navigating what might be the most dangerous day of the year on the nation’s roads.

During holidays, there are generally more crashes involving alcohol. On recent July 4ths, there have been particularly high numbers, with more deadly crashes than any other date, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“It’s the single deadliest day of the year,” said Anne McCartt, the institute’s senior vice president.

Because of that, Maryland State Police launched a specialized team of seven troopers focused on combating drunken driving. Based on crash and citation data, the team will be targeting hot spots where drunken driving and accidents have been a major problem.

“We go where we’re needed,” said Sgt. Rebecca Bosley, who heads the team. “We are trying to save lives.”

The group will patrol Prince George’s County on July 4th and will also be in Baltimore over the holiday weekend, Bosley said.

Officials with the state police, Prince George’s police and other agencies gathered this week in Jessup to publicly introduce the troopers. As part of the publicity push, there will be ads on billboards and gas pumps across the state.

The team has been deployed since May, working with Prince George’s police to make more than 250 DUI arrests, eight drug-related arrests and dozens of other arrests.

David Simmons, one of the team’s troopers, said everyone involved has “a high level of passion” for fighting drunken driving.

For some, that stems from personal experience. Bosley was barely two years into her career as a trooper when the car she was in was hit by a drunk driver in 2001. “It was an eye-opening experience,” she said.

The team was announced as residents prepared to attend holiday celebrations and hit the road.

“It’s one of those weekends that we see a lot of motorists on the road who may be violating our impaired-driving laws,” said Elena Russo, a Maryland State Police spokeswoman. “We tend to see it in the number of DUI arrests that we make.”

But people who plan to drink have another option: SoberRide, a free cab service aimed at keeping the intoxicated from getting behind the wheel.

It will be available from 10 p.m. Thursday until 4 a.m. Friday. People 21 and older can call 1-800-200-TAXI for a free ride up to $30; the rider must pay anything over that amount. The service is available throughout the region; for a list of locations served, go to wrap.org/soberride.

Nationwide, between 2007 and 2011, there were 670 deaths in crashes on July 4, more than any other date, according to the Insurance Institute.

Independence Day stands out because it combines people on vacation, who may be driving on unfamiliar roads, with drivers traveling at night and those heading to and from celebrations, McCartt said.

More than 400 people died in traffic accidents during the entire July 4th holiday period last year, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly 40 percent of those deaths were in crashes involving alcohol.

Alcohol plays a role in more crashes on or around Independence Day, New Year’s, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas than at other times.

Nearly 10,000 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol in 2011, according to the NHTSA. That accounted for 31 percent of all fatal crashes that year. By comparison, alcohol played a role in 43 percent of fatal crashes around New Year’s and 40 percent of crashes over the Memorial Day weekend.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.

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