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Mass. to crack down on holiday drinking

In an effort to decrease the number of drunk driving incidents throughout the state, Massachusetts officials are increasing enforcement of liquor laws this holiday season.

Massachusetts officials plan an increased presence on highways to curb drinking and driving during the holiday season. PHOTO BY JACKIE ROBERTSON/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, the Massachusetts State Treasury and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration are joining together for Operation Safe Holidays.

The initiative started the night of Thanksgiving and will last through New Year’s Eve, according to a Nov. 29 press release from the state.

Chardra Allard, deputy communications director for the State Treasury, said the office would focus a majority of the efforts on ensuring that bars do not over-serve alcoholic drinks.

“We use best practices identified nationally,” she said. “And we target bars that are most commonly known to over serve.”

More than 50 percent of impaired driving arrests originate at Massachusetts bars, according to the ABCC. In 2012, the ABCC reported that about 250 bars and liquor stores have been charged with violations under the Liquor Control Act.

Catherine Howden, a spokeswoman at the NHTSA, said drunk driving is a large problem that is not limited to the holiday season.

“Across the nation, alcohol impaired motor vehicle crashes cost more than an estimated $37 billion annually,” she said.  “In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes — one every 51 minutes.” The Massachusetts State Police said they are taking an active role in the Operation Safe Holiday project, employing several methods to keep intoxicated people off the road, including extra saturation patrols and increased use of sobriety checkpoints.

Trooper Todd Nolan, a State Police spokesman, said the police understand that the holidays lead to an increased risk of drunk drivers.

“The holiday season has lots of opportunities for excessive alcohol consumption due to holiday parties, college students returning home for vacation or any other reason to celebrate,” he said. “Possible injuries or deaths due to alcohol-related crashes are always a concern.”

Nolan said police will double their efforts to ensure that the number of drunk drivers will be decreased this holiday season.

“The Massachusetts State Police has a commitment in keeping impaired operators off our roadways by having police aggressively patrolling the highways, adding extra personnel during the holiday and long weekends and running sobriety checkpoints across the state,” he said.

Chardra said any improvements in decreasing drunk driving would not be available to the public until the end of the holiday season.

“We won’t know numbers on improvement until after the program ends in January,” she said. “And we are able to take the time to do a comprehensive analysis of the year’s trends.”

State Treasurer Steven Grossman said in the press release that he expects great success to come from the enforcement.

“This kind of enforcement can save lives and prevent tragedies before they happen,” he said. “Operation Safe Holidays takes immediate and effective steps that result in the direct prevention of drunk driving and serving of intoxicated individuals during the busy holiday season.”

Kim Gainsboro, chairman of the ABCC, said in the press release that the mission of this enforcement is to increase public safety.

“These programs create safer roads and highways throughout the Commonwealth by discouraging drunk driving and by establishing a long-term deterrence for bar and restaurant owners to over-serve patrons,” Gainsboro said.

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