Beware of the upcoming summer holidays. They can be killers.

"The latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal the DUI fatalities during the summer holidays are far greater than the winter holidays," says Michael S. Garr, associate professor of sociology at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA. He has completed studies on alcohol use and social settings, and research on drunken driving and sobriety checkpoints.

When examining each day of the Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day holiday periods, Garr says the data reveal a higher incidence of alcohol-related fatalities than each day of the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's holiday periods.

A holiday can be just one day or up to four days depending whether the holiday extends into a weekend. When looking at holiday fatalities, Garr says it is important to consider the number of alcohol-related fatalities per day rather than looking at the total number for the holiday. Otherwise, holidays with three or four days to count alcohol-related fatalities will always have more deaths than a holiday that lasts just one day.

"When looking at holiday fatalities in this way, it becomes clear that more deaths occur per day during summer holidays than during winter holidays," says Garr. When calculated in this way, Labor Day has the most daily alcohol-related fatalities with an average of 117, followed closely by the Fourth of July with 116. The Memorial Day holiday follows in third with 104 alcohol-related fatalities per day.

The winter holidays are all well below 100 fatalities. New Year's comes in at the highest with 84 daily alcohol-related fatalities. Christmas has 83 fatalities per day and Thanksgiving, with 77 per day, has the lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities.

"The reasons for the high fatality rates during the summer months are vague. My past research indicates that alcohol consumption in parks and other public places increases during the summer, since more people visit these places during the summer months. These settings often lack the supervision that places like bars, restaurants, and even at home with family members seem to have. In addition, the longer and warmer days of summer are likely to increase the amount of drinking," says Garr. "When combined with favorable road conditions, the summer holidays invite more drinking and driving and, hence, more DUI fatalities."

Regardless of the holiday, Garr notes that the percentage of fatalities which are alcohol- related is declining. From 1982 to 1996, there has been a 24 percent decline in the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities during the six holidays.

"Surprisingly, the holiday that has experienced the greatest decline has the been Fourth of July," says Garr.

The rate of alcohol-related fatalities for the Fourth of July was 46.9 percent in 1996, down from 70 percent in 1982, a decline of one-third. All other holidays had approximately the same or lesser decline. This decline is similar to the overall decline in automobile fatalities by 28 percent whether alcohol was a factor or not.

"Whatever the reasons, I think it is clear that campaigns to reduce drinking and driving need to target summer holidays," says Garr.


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