As more drivers are expected on the road this holiday season than ever before, it’s a good time for our yearly column on the dangers of drinking and driving. DUI arrests continue to be a major problem nationwide, and the following story is a too often repeated occurrence that plagues our nation’s highways.

This is the saga of young Joe, a fun loving 23-year-old who is full of life, has lots of friends and is a good person. He also owns a classic muscle car, his 1969 Camaro Z28 that he loves to drive whenever he can. As Joe lives in a warm climate state, taking his car out during the holidays is a yearly ritual.

Joe could be your friend, son, sibling, parent or your husband. He’s having a great time at a holiday party, joining in on all the fun. He feels that he is OK to get behind the wheel of his Z28 even though he has had one too many of the alcoholic drinks.

It’s 1:30 a.m. and Joe is heading home. Thank goodness he’s alone in his Z28 as Joe isn’t aware that on this night he’ll become one of the more than 33,000 estimated drivers that will die in car accidents in 2016. This death rate is an estimated 8.2 percent increase over 2015 fatalities, as every 51 minutes an alcohol related fatality occurs somewhere in the United States. Further, his death will be recorded in the 25 percent group of impaired driving fatalities that occur between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) closely tracks all data available on alcohol related crashes and fatalities, and stress that drunk driving is often a symptom of a larger problem: Alcohol misuse and abuse.

Back to Joe.

Joe is not aware he is speeding at 65 mph and approaching a curve in the highway that should be taken at 35 mph. His reactions, meanwhile, have been diminished by his alcohol consumption. Then, his cell phone rings and he’s further distracted.

Joe is going too fast to make the curve. To make matters worse, he also forgot to buckle his seatbelt when he left the party. Before Joe even knows what is happening, his car is off the country road and headed directly toward a huge tree. His 1969 muscle car does not have airbags.

There is no correcting. Joe’s car hits the tree with a resounding crunch.

At 1/10th of a second, the car’s front bumper and grillwork collapse.
At 2/10ths of a second, the hood crumbles, rises, and smashes into the windshield. The grillwork now disintegrates.
At 3/10ths of a second Joe is sprung upright from his seat. His legs are immediately broken, and his knees crash against the dashboard. The steering wheel bends under his grip.
At 4/10ths of a second, the front of the car is completely destroyed and is now dead still. However, the rear end of the car is still traveling at 55 mph, and the 775-pound Z28 302-inch V8 engine and accessories are crunched into the tree.
At 5/10ths of a second, the impact rips Joe’s shoes clean off his feet. The Camaro’s chassis bends in the middle, and Joe’s head is slammed into the windshield. The car’s rear-end begins its downward fall as the spinning wheels churn into the ground.
At 6/10ths of a second, the entire body of the Camaro is twisted out of shape while the front seat continues to ram forward.
At 7/10ths of a second, Joe’s chest is pinned against the steering wheel shaft. His internal organs crash against his rib cage.
At 8/10ths of a second, Joe is dead. He’s now a statistic.

If you plan to host a party this holiday season or a gathering for the New Year, remember that you can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served alcohol to ends up in a crash. Please make sure all of your alcohol consumption guests designate sober drivers in advance, or help them arrange alternate transportation. Have phone numbers for taxi cab companies available; and finally, have everyone put their keys into a large bowl when entering the party and then refuse to give keys back to intoxicated guests.

In summary, it’s not just young drivers like Joe who die on our nation’s highways. Many adult drivers become statistics, too, from similar alcohol induced or distracted driving mistakes. Plan your travel carefully this holiday season, and never be in a hurry. If roads turn nasty, pull off safely at a roadside rest stop or have a coffee at restaurant.

Finally, if you must stop your vehicle to rest, never pull off and stop on the freeway shoulder or side of a road — it’s dangerous sitting there as the odds of being struck by oncoming vehicles is very high.
Keep in mind that more deaths per mile traveled occur during holiday season.

Have a safe 2016 Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and overall blessed holiday season.

Next week, we’ll look at distracted driving in all its forms and why driver phone texting/distraction continues to be a driving nightmare.

— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other Gatehouse Media publications. He welcomes reader input at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at greg@gregzyla.com.