Letter: Carnival comes with risks

Louisiana is well-known worldwide for its many tourist attractions, historic sites and popular events. Probably, our most famous annual event is Mardi Gras, which is celebrated throughout the southern part of our state and in some form or other observed in many communities above Interstate 10.

While Mardi Gras is a fun celebration that features colorful parades, elaborate balls and parties, there’s a darker side to Carnival season –– highway deaths. Year after year, Mardi Gras has the dubious distinction of ranking among the deadliest of holidays in Louisiana in terms of fatal and injury crashes. In 2012, the most recent year for which final statistics are available, 537 fatal and injury crashes occurred during the five-day Mardi Gras period, far more than any of the other seven holiday periods for which statistics are compiled. Those 2012 crash incidents involved 10 deaths and 953 injuries. The Memorial Day and Thanksgiving holidays in 2012 experienced slightly more traffic fatalities but were far behind in the number of crashes involving deaths and injuries.

Fatal and injury crashes tend to increase during holidays, so the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission focuses a lot of effort on trying to keep motorists safe during those periods. During certain holidays, including Mardi Gras, the commission provides grants to State Police and dozens of local law enforcement agencies to increase patrols and conduct sobriety or seat belt check points. Intense and highly visible enforcement is a proven method of promoting highway safety.

Perhaps more than any other state holiday, Mardi Gras is associated with alcohol consumption. Public safety becomes seriously compromised when a person who is impaired by alcohol or drugs makes the dangerous decision to drive a motor vehicle. Such a person endangers himself, his passengers, occupants of other vehicles and pedestrians.

Our message this Mardi Gras is to enjoy the holiday, but under no circumstances should you get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you’ve been drinking. If you do drive while impaired, chances are you’ll be stopped and arrested. Please stay safe and always fasten your seat belts.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc

executive director, Louisiana Highway Safety Commission

Baton Rouge