Residents urged to plan sober ride home for St. Patrick's Day

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If there’s one positive thing about COVID-19, it’s that it may not result in intoxication-caused deaths during St. Patrick’s Day.

Mayor Joseph J. Solomon made a prediction on Friday at the Warwick Police Department’s press event on impaired driving during St. Patrick’s Day.

“This year, we will not deal with the volume of issues that you’ve dealt with in past St. Patrick’s Days,” Solomon predicted. With the governor’s edict to close dine-in establishments, it would appear the mayor could be right.

Mayor Solomon focused on one word: responsibility. With all the complications COVID-19 brings to large gatherings, the mayor wants Warwick residents to be mindful of their own health and that of those close to them. He called for rational judgment for both the virus and drinking on the holiday.

“I think if society adheres to being responsible on St. Patrick’s Day…” Solomon said. “We will have a safe [holiday] this year.”

The press event highlighted the dangers associated with the holiday’s festivities. And this year, officials are also advising safe practices for the COVID-19 pandemic.

WPD Colonel Rick Rathbun and Mayor Solomon were joined by Peter Alviti, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT), Lincoln Police Chief Brian Sullivan, President of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and David Raposa, Director of Public Affairs for AAA Northeast.

A press release sent Thursday from WPD Captain Michael Lima said, “If you plan to drink any alcoholic beverage, even a watered-down green beer, it’s essential that you plan for a designated driver.”

Lincoln’s Chief Sullivan noted the holiday’s tradition and the notion of “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” He pointed out that the people of Ireland prepare for their celebration by coordinating a ride home. So for anyone participating, and wanting to be a part of Irish culture, Sullivan said to plan ahead like they do overseas.

Lima’s release said that across the United States in 2018, 73 people were killed in drunk driving crashes from the afternoon of March 16 to the morning of March 18 – the window considered St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

On Friday, WPD Colonel Rick Rathbun said 59 people in Rhode Island died in fatal crashes in 2018. According to Warwick PD, of those 59 deaths, 20 operators had a blood alcohol content (BAC) greater than the legal driving limit of .08. The police department is expecting 2019 results in October of this year.

Colonel Rathbun said Rhode Island is consistently above the national average in fatal crashes involving impaired drivers. He said according to the Rhode Island Department of Health, lab results show the average DUI offender is 38 years old and has a BAC of 0.17 – over double the legal limit.

“Driving while impaired is the one offense that is entirely preventable,” Rathbun said.

AAA Northeast’s Raposa said drivers know that getting into a car under the influence is wrong. He added that any kind of distracted driving could have serious repercussions.

DOT Director Alviti is calling for residents to stop anyone at risk of putting themselves in danger. He asks anyone who notices another person drinking and then attempting to operate a vehicle to intervene and prevent a potential tragedy.

According to the police department, the most recent fatality involving an intoxicated driver in Warwick was last October on Airport Road.

Warwick PD is urging anyone who consumes alcohol, even just one drink, to plan ahead so everyone can return home safely from holiday festivities. For anyone looking for a ride home who cannot get one through a designated driver, taxi service or rideshare application, officers will drive the individual home as long as they call from Warwick and are traveling to a residence in the city. Those safe rides are available from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and can be arranged by calling 468-4200.

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