The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year, when families are driving to see their loved ones, and when college students and transplants are returning to their hometowns.
It also happens to be one of the deadliest nights of the year from accidents caused by drunken drivers.
To highlight that fact and make more people aware of the dangers of Thanksgiving travel, police and fire officials assembled Monday morning with representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“People are making their plans right now of where to go…But the most important part of the plan is not only how are we going to get there, but how are we going to get home,” said Capt. Patrick Kelly of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Accident Investigation Division.
Kelly suggested that younger people who are more familiar with car service apps like Uber and Lyft should educate older family members about their benefits. “Show your parents, your older family members, there’s this great car service right on your phone,” he said.
It’s been 30 years since MADD began to popularize the idea of the designated driver to help avoid drunken driving accidents.
It’s also been 30 years since Delco native John McKenna, a lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force, was killed in a drunken driving crash while visiting friends at home for Thanksgiving.
On that Wednesday, his friend, who was intoxicated, drove into another car near West Chester Pike and City Line Avenue. McKenna had been on leave while stationed in Germany.
His mother, Mary McKenna, recalled the incident at Monday’s event.
“He went out Sunday night with his friend from high school,” she said. “Who would ever think, looking at these young couples going out, that something so horrible could happen? But it does happen. It happens more often than you think.”
Speakers acknowledged that people who have had a few drinks often don’t realize they are intoxicated.
“You don’t need to be drunk to be impaired,” Philadelphia Fire Department Commissioner Adam Thiel said. “If you are drinking, you are dangerous on the roads.”
Officials tied red ribbons with the MADD insignia to emergency vehicles on Monday to help spread the word.
Tips for a safe night out:
Anyone who intends to consume alcohol should plan for a designated driver or a safe passage home before going out. If you’re hosting a party, make sure to monitor your guests’ behavior and don’t allow anyone intoxicated to drive.
If you see someone who is drunk and who intends to get behind the wheel, stop that person. Use force, if necessary, to take the keys away. Or, call the police and provide a description of the vehicle.
“I know it’s hard to do,” Kelly said, “but you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life if they hurt themselves or another person.”