Police promise Mardi Gras impaired driving crackdown

Louisiana law enforcement officers are working hundreds of extra hours of overtime in an effort to reduce the number of injuries and deaths during Mardi Gras, repeatedly the worst holiday of the year for serious crashes.

During the 2010 Mardi Gras period, the most recent year for which complete data is available, Louisiana motorists were involved in 509 fatal and injury crashes, the highest per 100 hours of any holiday period. Eleven people were killed and 870 were injured in 2010 Mardi Gras crashes. Fifty-five percent of the deaths were alcohol-related.

“Mardi Gras is one of the events that makes Louisiana so unique and attracts tens of thousands of visitors to our state,” said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. “Unfortunately, too many revelers during this period make the terrible decision to drive while impaired, which often results in an injury or fatal crash.”

The Commission has contracted with up to 45 police departments, sheriffs offices and State Police across Louisiana to increase DWI enforcement during the Mardi Gras holiday, which runs from Feb. 5-21. Participating agencies are provided grants, which they use to pay officers overtime to conduct saturation patrols and checkpoints focused on removing impaired drivers from the roads.

Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, said troopers are participating in the Mardi Gras highway safety effort.

“The Louisiana State Police will deploy troopers to festivities across Louisiana to ensure a safe Carnival Season. State, parish and local law enforcement will partner together so that Mardi Gras is a safe environment for Louisiana’s citizens as well as those families who visit our state,” Edmonson said.

Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense in Louisiana, with a first-offense arrest costing as much as $1,000 in fines, plus court costs and even jail time. An adult driver can be arrested in Louisiana if his or her blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 or higher. The limit for drivers under 21 is 0.02 BAC.

LeBlanc also urges drivers and passengers to buckle their seat belts at all times, especially during the holiday season. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, regular seat belt use is the single most effective way to protect individuals and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes. Research has shown that when seat belts are used properly the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers in automobiles is reduced by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury is reduced by 50 percent. Louisiana law requires drivers and front and rear-seat passengers to have their seat belts fastened.

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