Let's state the obvious: Drunken driving is illegal, dangerous, and completely avoidable.

But despite the obvious, stories about drunken driving crashes and the serious injuries and fatalities they cause continue to make headlines.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there is one alcohol-impaired driving-related fatality every 51 minutes in the United States. In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in those crashes.

Think about that. That figure is greater than or close to the entire population of many communities in southern New Jersey.

Getting behind the wheel after you've been drinking is an easy mistake to make - people fool themselves into thinking that they are not impaired, or that one drink doesn't matter, or they rely on the fact that they've gotten away with it before. It's especially easy in the summer at the shore, when so many people are focused on having a good time.

But that simple error in judgment can have devastating consequences.

Recently, Middle Township, a community that is home to just about 19,000 people, was the scene of a car crash that killed two teenage cousins, Nioami Lazicki, 15, and Ashley Dauber, 13, as they walked along Bayshore Road.

The Cape May County Prosecutor's Office has charged the driver in the case, Joshua Malmgren, with first-degree aggravated manslaughter, and he is also charged with driving while intoxicated.

Malmgren's blood-alcohol content has not been released and the case is far from over, but Malmgren's tearful expression, as he made his first and only court appearance, spoke volumes.

Whatever the cause of this accident, two girls are dead and his life is forever altered.

It doesn't have to be so.

There are a host of organizations and campaigns designed to keep drunken drivers off the road.

Nationally, organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocate tougher penalties and promote designated-driver programs.

Locally, The HERO Campaign, established following the July 2000 death of Ensign John R. Elliott, offers simple, life-saving advice: Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver.

And there are some encouraging statistics, some signs that attitudes are changing.

In 2010, New Jersey State Police reported that about 31 percent of the drivers in fatalities had consumed alcohol, while 10 years ago 36 percent of all fatalities involved drivers who had consumed alcohol, a notable reduction.

Nationally, the NHTSA is promoting its latest crackdown on drunken driving from Aug. 17 to Sept. 3. The program promotes awareness and focuses attention on statistics, but the heart of the campaign is simple enough: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

So there are plenty of campaigns and efforts aimed at reducing or eliminating drunken driving.

But ultimately, it comes down to individual responsibility.

If you have been drinking, if there's even a remote possibility that you are drunk or even slightly buzzed, simply don't drive. Save a life instead.