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Holiday drivers asked to be aware

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Prisca Patrick (from left), whose brother was killed by a drunk driver, stands next to Twyla Jennings of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and Rosaline McCoy, Victim Services Senior Advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group hopes to educate drivers this holiday season.

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Prisca Patrick (from left), whose brother was killed by a drunk driver, stands next to Twyla Jennings of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and Rosaline McCoy, Victim Services Senior Advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group hopes to educate drivers this holiday season.

With the splendor and joy of Christmas soon upon us, a coordinated effort is being put together by federal and state organizations to deal with a more sobering reality of the holiday season: drinking and driving.

The “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign is the mission of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During the holiday season, the NHTSA utilizes organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to put a local face on the cause.

According to Twyla Jennings of the MDPS, the efforts of the organizations involved picks up steam around the holiday season.

“The number of incidents of drinking and driving, and related fatalities, goes up during the holidays. We want to do everything we can to prevent this,” Jennings said. “We also want to educate the community about the effects of this problem.”

Other efforts include appropriating funds from state and federal organizations and saturating the local media. Much of the funding that the organizations receive goes toward increased police presence on the holiday.

“It’s a national blitz,” Jennings said.

While abstinence from alcohol is the ultimate goal, Victim Services Senior Advocate Rosaline McCoy suggests that MADD is a pragmatic organization. If people do make the decision to drink, McCoy offers a number of suggestions.

“MADD is not a prohibition program. We realize people are going to make the decision to drink. What we want to do is encourage people to make responsible arrangements beforehand,” McCoy said.

This includes being sure to have a designated driver, adding the number of a local cab or taxi service as a phone contact and simply not driving if drinking.

“We also want people to consider the effect a DUI, or possibly worse, will have on the person involved. It isn’t just a legal and financial matter. It has consequences to family members as well,” McCoy explained.

To drive home the message and to provide a human element to the effects of drunk or impaired driving, Prisca Patrick accompanies Jennings and McCoy to many of the places they go to help educate the public.

On March 9, 2007, Prisca’s brother John Michael Patrick Jr. was killed by a drunk driver. Patrick Jr. was 19 at the time. Prisca hopes the story of her loss will encourage people to doublethink drinking this holiday season.

“Michael had a very promising future. He had scholarships to Ole Miss and Howard University. He wanted to be a lawyer. I’ll never know what he could have been.” Prisca said.