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Holidays A Deadly Time For Drunken Driving

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Drunken driving leads to many more deaths during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period, the government reported Tuesday.

Transportation Department officials, along with highway safety advocacy groups, said a larger percentage of traffic fatalities during the holidays involve the deadly mix of alcohol and driving. They announced plans to increase enforcement of drunken driving laws.

``Each year there is a late-December spike in fatalities and it's tied directly to drunk driving during the holidays,'' said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

From 2001-2005, about 54 people were killed daily in crashes involving drunken driving in the days surrounding New Year's while about 45 people died a day in alcohol-impaired crashes around Christmas. That compares with an average of about 36 fatalities a day because of drunken driving.

About 4 in 10 of the daily traffic fatalities during New Year's and Christmas involve alcohol, compared with about 3 in 10 the rest of the year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nationally, the government estimated that about 430 deaths could happen this year in motor vehicle crashes involving a drunk driver during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period.

To warn motorists about the dangers of drunken driving, the government is spending about $7 million for an advertising campaign to publicize increased drunken driving check points and additional enforcement during the next few weeks.

``This is a season for Santa and sleigh bells, not for sirens and prison cells,'' Peters said. ``So I hope everyone in America heeds the warning not to drink and drive.''
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