ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Icy roads, a holiday season in full swing and many days before the sun is up longer than it's down: All contributing factors to December being one of the most dangerous months of the year for anyone driving on Alaska's roads.
December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. It's meant to serve as a reminder not to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, something 40 million Americans do each year.
"I'm not going to say 'don't drink,'" said Marcia Howell, Alaska Injury Prevention Center Executive Director, "because people are going to choose to do that.
"But before drinking, have a plan," she said.
Traffic fatalities involving impaired drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol increase significantly during the Christmas and New Year's holiday periods, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Additional data from the NHTSA shows 28 people die every day in alcohol-related crashes alone, that the chances of being involved in an alcohol-related crash remain at around one in three for any given person, and that those deaths and damages cost about $52 billion yearly.
It's primarily about safety, but it's also about keeping yourself out of trouble, too.
"Troopers as well as police departments around the state are involved in a high-visibility holiday campaign," Howell said, adding that about 1,200 people were stopped during the last holiday watch.
Since January 2011, the Anchorage Police Dept. alone has made 9,698 DUI arrests. That data is only through Oct. 31 of this year, the last full month of information currently available.
While the yearly number of arrests decreased from 2011 through 2015, there were already 1,129 arrests at the end of October 2016. That could be extrapolated to about 1,300 arrests by Dec. 31 if the arrests continue at the average daily rate, but that figure doesn't include the increased frequency of impaired driving arrests that will likely happen throughout the course of December.
"The amount of alcohol (or drugs) it takes to be impaired varies from body to body," Howell said, "but it's hard once you are impaired to make the safe choice not to drive, so taking that choice away from yourself ahead of time is a really good idea."
Avoiding driving impaired isn't only for your own safety, either, but the safety of others as well.
"Some people aren't going to be motivated by the risk to themselves," Howell said. "But when you think about driving impaired, the risk of hitting someone else or having somebody else in your car get injured is pretty significant.
"Add to that, it's winter, it's icy, there are pedestrians out who aren't very visible, cyclists who are out, and other drivers who aren't making good choices," she said. "We really have to take it upon ourselves to be the responsible one."
Learn more from AIPC about impaired driving here, or click here for the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services' resource guide for help with the treatment of drug and alcohol addition and other support centers.