While holiday shopping I came across an interesting plaque that read: "I started thinking about the dangers of drinking on New Year's Eve. After that, I decided to stop thinking." Was this intended to be facetious or suggest drunk driving is dumb? Here's something to ponder: every year there are more than 10,000 preventable, unnecessary, tragic deaths due to drunk driving. And during the holiday season the number increases.

Statistics show almost every 90 seconds, a person is injured in a drunk-driving crash and every 54 minutes drunk driving claims a life. Now that's a sobering fact.

Alcohol interferes with a person's coordination, driving skills and judgment. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, "First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." Alcohol can cause people to lose control and become aggressive, which in turn also can affect driving skills. Don't believe the hype that consuming caffeinated drinks is an antidote to being drunk or can clear alcohol out of the system. And, know the truth that impairment is not determined by the type of drink, but by the amount of alcohol drunk over time.

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Fortunately, officials are not taking this lying down. The U.S. Department of Transportation has funded a $7 million holiday campaign titled "Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over." This effort is dedicated to getting drunk and/or drugged drivers either to seek an alternative, or pay a heavy price. Studies have shown when sobriety checkpoints are highly publicized and widespread, drunk driving related crashes and deaths decrease by 20 percent. Now that's a great investment that also yields dividends.

Being convicted of a "DUI" carries heavy penalties including: fines, fees and surcharges; license suspension; ignition interlock devices (a mechanism, such as a breathalyzer, installed on a motor vehicle's dashboard that prevents the ignition from starting); jail time; and community service. That, combined with the trauma of a crash is nothing to be taken lightly.

•If you are hosting a celebration, here are some helpful tips to keep the cheer while ensuring your guests remain safe:

•Move "last call" up. Start the party early with alcoholic beverages and then switch to nonalcoholic as the night goes on. This may allow your guests the time needed to sober up before they drive home.

•Spice it up. Nonalcoholic drinks can be fun and yummy. This allows designated drivers to tickle their palate and have a good time. Additionally, guests who are drinking can mix in a few nonalcoholic drinks to prevent getting wasted.

•Designated host. Choose a host ahead of time who will not be drinking. This way they can notice if one of the guests may have drank too much.

•Provide options. Whether you arrange for a taxi, offer your guests a sleeping bag or couch to crash on overnight, or create a designated driver system to return them home, be prepared. Having several options available makes it easier to encourage guests to do the right thing.

•Key check. The price of admission: hand over those keys at the time of entry. Before returning them, the designated host can assess the guest's condition and prevent them from driving drunk.

For those who are going out or attending a party, don't wing it - act responsibly. Create a plan ahead of time and commit to not drink and drive. Identify a designated non-drinking driver. Set realistic goals when it comes to how many drinks you will have over a period of time, and stick to it. If you typically have one drink and that is enough, this is not the time to become an overachiever. Additionally, do not drink too much, too early. You may miss out on the Times Square ball dropping or that special kiss.

Not just in southern New Jersey, but across the world, there is something about the New Year's Eve that makes us want to lift our glasses to toast, over and over and over again. Enjoy and celebrate to a prosperous, happy and healthy new year for you and your community. Just don't drink and drive. You want to remember your night and have many more New Year's Eve celebrations down the road. Happy New Year's!

Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at drninaradcliff@aol.com

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