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Sobering advice for holiday travelers

By Matt Pommer

In Wisconsin, drunken drivers and deer are more serious health hazards than the swine flu. That seems especially true during the Thanksgiving season, the most heavily car-traveled period of the year.

Each year more than 45,000 drunken driving arrests are made in Wisconsin, according to the State Patrol. When 24 other categories of alcohol-related arrests are included, the number jumps to more than 90,000.

In a recent five-year period, 43 percent of fatal vehicle accidents were alcohol related, according to the State Patrol. In that same period there were 43,426 crashes that resulted in death or injuries.

This week a lot of deer will be on the move, state officials warn. Last year car insurance companies reported more than 50,000 in vehicle-deer damage claims, according to Insurance Commissioner Sean Dilweg.

The media are full of tips on dealing with the swine flu, including repeated washing of hands and getting a flu shot for those in high risk categories. But there are also tips on the road safety. They include:

* Wear seat belts, stay sober, have headlights correctly adjusted and use high beams when possible.

* If you see a deer on the side of a road, slow down and sound your horn. Some suggest flashing your headlights.

* If a deer is in front of you, brake firmly, don’t swerve and stay in your lane. It’s better to hit the deer than lose control of the vehicle, risking rolling over or hitting oncoming traffic.

* If you hit a deer, stay in your vehicle. The injured deer could hurt you. Try to get your vehicle off the road and call police.

The biggest chance for a deer hit is in rural or semi-rural areas – places where civilization has entered traditional deer areas. Rural areas also offer the greatest danger for drunken driving, according to State Patrol statistics.

Rural areas account for 54 percent of drunken driving arrests, 59 percent of injury cases and 78 percent of the fatality cases.

Most of the drunken drivers in fatal accidents have had no prior arrests for drinking and driving. There is a final sobering note for drivers for this holiday period.

Only two-tenths of one percent of drunken driving arrests end in acquittal, according to the State Patrol.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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