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Westerly Police Department's DUI Enforcement cruiser, which was paid for using grant funding. Courtesy Westerly Police Department

WESTERLY — 'Tis the season for celebration, but a little pre-party planning can make a big difference in making sure the night doesn't end in tragedy.

Westerly police and Rhode Island state troopers are urging residents and visitors to the Ocean State to "give the gift of safety" this holiday season by staying sober and avoiding distractions when driving over the Christmas and New Year's Day weekends. The effort is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" enforcement campaign.

Westerly Police Capt. Steven Johnson said a proactive enforcement effort, which began on Dec. 15 and will continue through Jan. 1, will seek to take drunk drivers off the roads and protect residents from the dangers of impaired driving.

“It’s so important that drivers act responsibly, and that includes refraining from impaired driving,” Johnson said. “The holidays are a special time of year for most, and we really want our community members to enjoy this season. We need commitment from our drivers that they’ll keep the roads free of drunk drivers so that everyone can have a safe holiday. This is a campaign to get the message out that drunk driving is illegal and it takes lives. Help us put an end to this senseless behavior”.

According to NHTSA, there were 10,142 people killed in drunk-driving crashes across the U.S. in 2019, accounting for nearly one-third of all crash-related fatalities. In fact, there were more than 10,000 people were killed each year from 2015 to 2019 — an average of one person every 52 minutes in 2019.

Rhode Island also ranks as one of the highest states in the nation with impaired driving deaths. In 2021, the nation's smallest geographical state had already had 60 deaths related to crashes.

Over the course of the past few years, officials said the Christmas and New Year’s Day holiday periods experienced more drunk-driving-related fatalities than during any other holiday period.

No matter the road to get there, the police said the consequences for driving under the influence simply aren't worth the risk. If no one is injured or killed in the process, those who are caught drunken drivingface jail time, loss of license and/or vehicle, and fines, attorney's fees, higher insurance costs and lost wages that can result in financial losse of up to $10,000.

Those who are drinking should find a designated driver in advance, or make alterative plans to stay the night or otherwise get home safe. Johnson said the police will not be tolerant of those seeking sympathy after driving drunk.

“Drunk driving is not acceptable behavior. It is essential to plan a sober ride home before you ever leave for the party," Johnson said. "There are too many resources to get you home safely. There are just no excuses for drunk driving.”

For more information about the 2021 Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving.

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