2009-11-27 / Columnists

Smith Speaks From Albany

Making the Holiday Season Happy - and Safe
Commentary From The Desk Of Senator Malcolm Smith Minority Leader New York State Senate

MALCOMN SMITH MALCOMN SMITH The holiday season is a time for family, friends, and parties, but it's also when the num ber of highway fatalities jumps. Along with holiday parties come alcohol-related traffic crashes. However, you can take simple steps to keep this holiday season happy and safe. Always designate a sober driver when you're going to a party, and never getting behind the wheel if you've been drinking.

Last year, 37,695 people were convicted for drunken driving in New York. Nationwide, some 13,000 people die in alcohol-related car crashes each year.

Two recent fatal incidents involving intoxicated drivers with child passengers have highlighted the need for stronger measures to prevent drunken driving, and punish persons who drive intoxicated with children as passengers. In October, 11-year Leandra Rosado was killed when the car she was riding in flipped over on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan. The driver has since been charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.

I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to cosponsor Leandra's Law, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support and was signed by the Governor.

This landmark legislation drastically increases the pen alty for anyone who drives intoxicated with a child passenger. t also expands preventative measures to keep people who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel.

Leandra's Law requires all offenders convicted of any DWI offense to install a ignition interlock device in their vehicle. This device measures the alcohol content of a driver's breath and prevents the engine from starting if it detects too high a level. Quite simply, it will prevent future drunk driving crashes.

Leandra's Law also makes it a felony for individuals to drive while intoxicated (DWI) or under the influence of drugs with children in the car. Previously, this was considered a misdemeanor offense and could be treated as a traffic violation.

By strengthening both prevention and punishment, Leandra's Law is a positive step forward in our efforts to eliminate the tragedies caused by drunk drivers. We are sending a clear message that this kind of reckless conduct will not be tolerated in New York.

It also drives home the point that it is always safer, smarter, and cheaper, to call a friend, designate a sober driver, or take a cab home when drinking.

If you are driving to an event where you will be drinking alcohol, several simple steps will make this holiday season a safe one.

Program the number of your local cab company in your cell phone and carry the number in your wallet

If you are impaired, call a taxi, use mass transit, or have a sober friend or family member come and get you;

Park someplace where it's safe to leave your car over - night if you "have too much"

If you can't get a ride, stay where you are and sleep it off until you are sober;

Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk. Take the keys and never let a friend leave your sight if you think they are about to drive while impaired.

Don't even think about getting behind the wheel if you've been drinking;

If you are hosting a party, remind your guests to plan ahead, always offer alcohol-free beverages during the event, and make sure all of your guests leave with a sober driver.

This time of year sees a significant increase in sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols by state and local law enforcement efforts to combat impaired driving.

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