Local law enforcement agencies announced that heightened patrols will occur during the holiday season due to the influx of travel and potential driving hazards.

The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on Tuesday evening that local patrols will increase in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend that will continue through New Year’s Day of 2023.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that nearly 54.6 million people will depart from their homes for the Thanksgiving holiday and will return after the weekend is complete and about 49 million of the people departing will travel by car, according to AAA. The Sheriff’s Office continued to state that the holiday season is commonly associated with higher drinking rates, which could lead to higher rates of drunk driving that creates a dangerous atmosphere for motorists.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that it will implement higher patrol rates as part of the Safe Family Travel campaign to discourage impaired driving and promote seatbelt use while vehicles are in motion. The Safe Family Travel campaign begins before Thanksgiving each year and is funded with grants from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI).

Sheriff Rich Kelly assured the community that the Sheriff’s Office institutes the increased patrols as a safety measure against drunk driving, but the deputies and officials are not instructing people of legal drinking age to not consume an alcoholic beverage during the holiday season completely.

“We’re not telling people they can’t drink. We’re asking people to be responsible and to not drink and drive,” said Kelly. “The holidays shouldn’t be marked by tragedy, so don’t ruin your life or the life of someone else by getting behind the wheel impaired. You will be held accountable if you do.”

The Sheriff’s Office cited a report from NHTSA that stated that this year’s increased patrols are imperative due to increased rates of fatal crashes and dangerous driving this year alongside “events” such as “Blackout Wednesday” and “Drinksgiving” that occur during the Thanksgiving season.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that 932 people lost their lives while inside a vehicle last year in Indiana, which marks a 4 percent increase from 2020, and 12 of the fatalities occurred during the Thanksgiving season. Law enforcement responders reported that seven of the motorists that were killed in the fatal crashes were unbuckled at the moment of impact, which has helped spark the focus on proper seat belt use this year as well. However, around one-fourth of Indiana’s fatal crashes are the result of drunk driving, according to authorities. The high correlation has resulted in a heavier focus on discouraging impaired driving this year.

“Impaired driving is life-threatening, but even more so around the holidays,” said ICJI Traffic Safety Director Robert Duckworth. “With so many ride options available, there’s no reason that should be the case. We’re asking everyone to plan accordingly and to make safety a priority. Our goal is zero fatalities this year.”

One of the ways that law enforcement is planning to discourage impaired driving is by encouraging motorists to designate a sober driver, use public transportation or utilize services such as Uber or Lyft after consuming alcoholic beverages. The Sheriff’s Office stated that those who consume even one drink should not drive due to the risks that can be involved. Law enforcement agencies will also crack down on improper use of seat belts or the appearance of distracted driving and speeding.

“We’re anticipating a very busy travel season this year, so for those sharing the road, remember to slow down, drive sober and buckle up,” said ICJI Executive Director Devon McDonald. “Most fatal crashes are avoidable, not inevitable. We want everyone to make it to the Thanksgiving table safely.”

The Sheriff’s Office stated that impaired and distracted driving could risk the lives of the driver as well as occupants and other motorists on the road and could result in an arrest, jail time and fines. Drunk driving arrest fines average around $10,000 according to authorities. Motorists are encouraged to contact the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office or dial 911 if they suspect an impaired or unsafe driver is operating a vehicle on the road.

For more information regarding safety tips, visit nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving or visit clintoncountysheriff.com.