Holiday Sobriety Challenge

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Sure, everybody likes to imbibe in a little "holiday cheer" from time to time, but sometimes things can go over the edge.

Drunk driving fatalities are a very real concern for everybody, so it's nice to see some people doing something productive as opposed to the usual soapbox preaching about how you'll never make it through this life if you so much as get within five feet of the stuff.

Drunk driving fatalities are down 60-percent in California since the U.S.Department of Transportation began tracking those numbers in 1982. Moreover,nationally, there were 7,500 fewer drunk-driving fatalities in 1999 than in1982.

Those are great numbers to build on, but even one death per year is too many. Tothat end, Sears Point Raceway has partnered with the California Highway Patroland Jim Russell Racing Drivers School to raise awareness to the dangers of drunkdriving by hosting the "Holiday Sobriety Challenge," on Thursday, December 14,from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Holiday Sobriety Challenge will be held in advance of "Lights On For LifeDay," on Friday, December 15. The day encourages motorists nationwide to drivewith their headlights on in remembrance of those who have been killed byimpaired drivers.

The Challenge will be held at Sears Point and feature a controlled wine and beertasting experiment that will graphically illustrate how alcohol consumptionaffects driving performance, even at levels well below the legal limit.

The participants who will take part in the experiment will each be served 1 to 3glasses of wine or beer upon arrival. They will then be taken through a seriesof field sobriety tests by CHP officers, including a Breathalyzer analysis,before being asked to drive around a pre-determined course at speed. They willbe joined in the cars by racing instructors from the Jim Russell Racing DriversSchool for safety reasons.

Program organizers anticipate that the drivers will have many problemsnavigating the coned course, illustrating how impairment begins at any amount ofalcohol consumption.

"Drinking and driving is a pretty dangerous combination and we think thisprogram will certainly illustrate that fact," said CHP Captain Jim McLaughlin,Napa Area Commander. "We really want to stress to people that if they plan ondrinking they definitely need to have a designated driver. There is too much atrisk."

Despite the encouraging statistics mentioned earlier, recent numbers suggest theimportance of programs such as the "Holiday Sobriety Challenge." Fatalitiesresulting from drunk driving accidents in the nine Bay Area counties increasedby 42-percent from 1998-1999 (40 to 57). Moreover, statewide, that numberincreased by 6-percent from 1998-1999 (785-835).

Such numbers stress the importance of raising awareness.

"The dangers of drinking and driving are well documented, particularly this timeof year," said Steve Page, president and general manager at Sears Point. "Wehope programs like this will help raise awarness and save lives."

Among the participants will be Danville resident Johannes Van Overbeek, whodrives for BMW Prototype Technology Group in the American Le Mans Series, andKevin Buckler, who owns/drives a Porsche 911 for his Racer's Group team in boththe ALMS and Grand American Road Racing Association. Buckler is from Sonoma.

Other participants in the Challenge will include community leaders, collegestudents, local business people, retirees and media personnel. This diversegroup should provide a good spectrum as to the dangers of drinking and drivingat any age. Napa Valley's Andretti Winery will donate the wine, and Mount St.Helena Brewery and Budweiser will supply the beer for the experiment.

In addition, the CHP will also have Bay Area high school students from Napa andSonoma counties drive while wearing "Fatal Vision Goggles." The goggles willgive the students a simulated feel of what it's like to drive while under theinfluence.

Festivities will kick-off at 10 a.m., when a caravan of CHP patrol cars motorover the Golden Gate Bridge and continue all the way in a single-file format toSears Point Raceway. All cars will have their headlights on in honor of thosewho have been killed by impaired drivers. The day will kick-off National Drunkand Drugged Driving (3D) Prevention month, whereby a series of events will beheld throughout the country that will attempt to raise awareness about thedangers of drinking and driving.

*NOTE: Statistics used for this release were provided by the California HighwayPatrol and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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