standing Rhode Island State Police hq

Rhode Island State Police headquarters in North Scituate. Sun file photo

For many southern New England families, this Thanksgiving will bring a return to in-person traditions following a pandemic-impacted 2020 holiday season. State police in Rhode Island and Connecticut are urging residents to plan ahead and put down the keys if they plan on raising a glass in celebration over the long weekend.

State troopers in both states, alongside local police in Westerly, Stonington, Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown, will all be using added patrols and strategic staffing this weekend to promote safe driving practices and combat drunk driving. The enforcement, which is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” media campaign, is part of an effort to gain compliance and prevent holiday tragedy.

“We know friends and families will be especially excited to gather around the Thanksgiving table this year,” said Col. James Manni, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police. “Unfortunately, drunk driving is a real threat to our community, and that threat increases during holidays like Thanksgiving. Driving under the influence is deadly and illegal, and no one should ever take that risk.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 28 people in the U.S. die in drunk-driving crashes every day — an average of one person every 52 minutes.

The number of drunk driving crashes also spikes during the Thanksgiving holiday, and an analysis of data from 2015 through 2019 revealed that 135 drivers involved in Thanksgiving Eve crashes, a period which covers just 12 hours, were alcohol impaired. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, which includes a 36-hour period from Wednesday evening through Thursday, 800 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes, the NHTSA said.

In fact, during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday period, more than four times as many drivers involved in fatal crashes were alcohol-impaired during nighttime hours than during the day.

This Thanksgiving Eve, the NHTSA and its partners are conducting a social media blitz with the “goals of delivering lifesaving messages into the public conversation and to encourage positive actions that can help reduce impaired driving on the roadways.”

Westerly police will again be among departments joining the effort, Capt. Steven Johnson said last week, and will have a full staff on the town's roads Thanksgiving Eve and again on Thanksgiving to enforce DUI and distracted driving laws.

Johnson said the goal, as with any holiday, is to make sure that everyone is able to enjoy and return home safe at the end of the day.

“Those choosing to drink during the Thanksgiving Holiday are urged to use a safety plan, use a designated driver or many of the available ride-share services,” he said. “Also buckling up is not optional; it’s the difference between life and death in a crash. That’s why we’re out here enforcing the law.”

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