BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Last year, law enforcement officials in Louisiana say the five-day Mardi Gras holiday was once again the single-most dangerous holiday on Louisiana highways.
The grim statistic has officers planning to join forces statewide through Mardi Gras in a high-visibility "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign. It will start on Jan. 29 and continue through Feb. 9, as part of a new effort to save lives by keeping impaired drivers off the roads.
Over the five-day Mardi Gras weekend in 2015, according to preliminary data, there were 599 fatal and injury crashes, with 10 deaths and 1,005 injuries. More than half of the deaths involved alcohol. The statistics were no better than the same holiday period the year before when there were 601 fatal and injury crashes in Louisiana. Thirteen people died. Seven of the deaths involved alcohol.
In 2014, 34 percent of the traffic fatalities in Louisiana involved a driver with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit (.08 BAC or above). This is compared to 31 percent in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
"Unfortunately, in Louisiana, we confront a culture that too often ignores warnings about drinking and driving, but it's especially acute at Mardi Gras, when so many of the celebrations involve alcohol consumption," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, which is coordinating the Drive Sober campaign.
"On average over the past two years, Louisiana had 120 serious crashes per day during the Mardi Gras holiday. These are crashes involving death or injury, with more than half of the deaths involving alcohol," LeBlanc explained.
"We're not so naïve as to expect people to abstain from drinking alcohol and enjoying themselves over the Mardi Gras holiday. We want to publicize extra enforcement information and outreach in the hopes that it will reduce impaired driving during the Mardi Gras season," he added.
Sponsored by the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, with funding from NHTSA, the Drive Sober campaign provides grants to the Louisiana State Police and local law enforcement agencies to work overtime to curb impaired driving.
Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense in Louisiana, with a first-offense arrest costing thousands of dollars in fines, plus court costs and even jail time. An adult is legally intoxicated with a BAC of .08 or greater. The limit for drivers under 21 is .02 BAC.
Louisiana law also requires drivers and passengers in the front and back seats to wear their seat belts at all times when their vehicle is in motion.
Motorists can report impaired drivers by dialing *LSP (*577) from their cellular phones to reach the Louisiana State Police Troop closest to them.