'Blackout Wednesday' tops St. Patrick's Day, New Year's Eve for drunken driving, police say
The day before Thanksgiving is arguably the most dangerous day of the year when it comes to driving, police say.
“I'd put it up there with St. Patrick's Day,” said Greensburg police Chief Chad Zucco. “It's definitely busier than New Year's.”
One factor is the number of cars on the road as people head home for the holidays. Another factor is people reconnecting with old friends and going to local bars to celebrate.
“That's our biggest day of the year when it comes to people drinking alcohol and driving vehicles,” said Trooper Steve Limani, a state police spokesman.
AAA predicts that 50.9 million Americans will make a trip of 50 or more miles from Wednesday through Sunday. About 1.4 million of those travelers will be in Pennsylvania, the motor club predicts.
Because of the expected congestion, other motorists should be alert to police officers who have pulled someone over. State law requires them to either move into the other lane, if possible, or slow down as they pass the stopped vehicles, Limani said.
PennDOT's analysis of holiday crashes groups Wednesday, Thanksgiving and Black Friday as one holiday and doesn't show how Wednesday alone compares to other days of the year.
In 2016, the Thanksgiving period had 1,248 crashes and 17 fatal crashes, according to PennDOT's annual Crash Facts and Statistics report.
A further breakdown shows the role of alcohol. Year-round, alcohol-related crashes made up about 8 percent of all crashes in 2016. During the Thanksgiving period, alcohol-related crashes made up about 13 percent of all crashes.
One thing that makes the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — sometimes called “Blackout Wednesday” — more dangerous than other “drinking” holidays is that people don't anticipate getting drunk, Limani said.
People think ahead for New Year's Eve, July 4th and other holidays by designating drivers or making other plans for getting home safely, he said.
“A lot of people know what they're doing New Year's right now and a lot of those people, if you asked them what they were doing Wednesday, couldn't tell you,” he said.
State and local police plan increased patrols Wednesday to catch drunken drivers before they cause crashes. They also will conduct a Click It or Ticket enforcement action to encourage people to buckle up, Limani said.
“There's going to be more of us out there,” he said.
Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, email@example.com or via Twitter @TribBrian.