“Excess” is central to the spirit and tradition of Mardi Gras: great food, music, elaborate costumes and lavish parties that often go well into the night. Once a holiday celebrated mostly in south Louisiana, communities in other parts of the state have embraced Mardi Gras as a festive season to enjoy with family and friends. It’s part of being a Louisianian.
However, excess at Mardi Gras has apparently given rise to another unfortunate tradition: a high rate of highway crashes and deaths, many of them alcohol-related. Last year, during Louisiana’s five-day Mardi Gras holiday, there were almost 600 crashes involving 13 deaths — more crashes and deaths than any other holiday last year, based on preliminary data. More than half of the 2014 Mardi Gras fatalities involved alcohol. The 2014 fatalities were more than twice as high as those of Mardi Gras 2013, when there were 508 crashes that killed five people.
While a growing number of communities throughout Louisiana sponsor family-friendly events, for many, Mardi Gras celebrations often highlight the consumption of alcoholic beverages. We know from our recently released 2013 Louisiana Traffic Records Data Report that 42 percent of fatalities that year were alcohol-related. These deaths are largely preventable.
In an effort to increase safety for motorists and curb fatalities over the Mardi Gras holidays, we are providing grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to increase sobriety patrols over the Mardi Gras holidays. The goal of our “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign is to preserve the safety of the holiday by helping keep impaired drivers off the highways.
Our message is simple: Enjoy Mardi Gras, but don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk. Only drive if you’re sober, don’t get into a vehicle with an impaired driver, and please make sure everyone in your vehicle is properly buckled up. Drive safely.
Lt. Col. John LeBlanc
executive director, Louisiana Highway Safety Commission