EDITORIAL: Think before taking the wheel

Next week is Christmas with New Year’s Eve not far behind, and friends, family and coworkers will be inviting you to a host of holiday-themed parties.
   Inevitably, year after year, folks who have had one too many at some of these festive gettogethers will make the potentially life-altering decision to get behind the wheel.
   Recently, local and county officials have announced grants for DUI crackdowns and repeatedly stating the sobering statistics.
   Nearly one in five motor vehicle fatalities in New Jersey in 2012 was alcohol-related, according to statistics from the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department.
   On top of that, there were more than 4,000 people killed in drunk driving crashes nationwide in the combined Decembers between 2007 and 2011.
   Despite efforts of public awareness and increased DUI crackdowns, it appears all too many still are not heeding the warnings of law enforcement and advocacy groups.
   Last month, Mothers Against Drunk Driving lamented new data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealing drunk driving fatalities had increased last year to 10,322 from 9,865 in 2011.
   Ultimately, the decision — one that can literally mean life or death — is yours, and there are a litany of ways through which those partaking in a little bit too much holiday cheer still can ensure their safety and the safety of those around them.
   • Instead of driving yourself, take mass transit, a cab or ask a sober friend or family member to drive you home.
   • Spend the night where the party or other activity is being held.
   • If you are intoxicated and traveling on foot, the safest way to get home is to have someone sober escort you to your doorstep if other safe forms of travel, i.e. a cab, are unavailable.
   The responsibility, however, is not only limited to the person who would otherwise drink and drive as authorities encourage anyone who observes an impaired driver on the road to contact them immediately.
   Additionally, to safeguard yourself against potentially impaired drivers on the road, you should always wear your seatbelt.
   Also, do not hesitate to step in if someone you know who is intoxicated attempts to get behind the wheel. You may not only be saving the life of a friend or loved one, but other travelers as well.
   The holidays are a time for good cheer, for family and friends to get together and celebrate, but it is important to know one bad decision can permanently transform a fleeting night of festive fun into lives altered or lost.
   Each statistic — each of those 10,322 who died last year — had a father, mother, other relative, friends and coworkers who will not be able to share this holiday season with them.
   Please do whatever you can to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you this holiday season.
   Be merry. But also be safe.