State and local police in Virginia were out in force on St. Patrick’s Day to enforce laws against drunken drivers. The holiday is a festive one that law officers and highway safety officials have come to dread.

Virginia State Police superintendent Col. W. Steve Flaherty said that St. Patrick’s Day has “become quite a deadly holiday” within the past several years.

Flaherty and representatives of AAA Mid-Atlantic joined together at a news conference on March 16 at Siné pub in Richmond's Shockoe Slip to urge people to drink in moderation, use designated drivers, and not get behind the wheel after drinking.

Police in Richmond didn’t wait until St. Patrick’s Day to begin. They started on Thursday, March 12 due to weekend celebrations. They say they made 654 drunken-driving arrests during a comparable holiday period last year.

Siné, a popular Irish pub on East Cary Street, drew thousands to its 10th annual St. Patrick's Day festival on March 14. The management at the pub fully supports the police’s tough drunken driving message.

Virginia law enforcement is trying to build on positive trends. During the first 10 months of 2008, the state recorded 292 alcohol-related fatalities. That number is a decrease from the same period in 2007, when there were 320 recorded alcohol-related deaths.

In 2008, there were 821 traffic fatalities on Virginia roads. That number is a decrease from 1,021 in 2007, and a record low for more than 40 years.

In 2008, there were 71 drivers involved in 45 alcohol-related crashes on St. Patrick’s Day in Virginia. The majority of those took place in Richmond, Fairfax County, and Smyth County. Approximately two-thirds, or 65 percent, of the drivers involved were reported to have been drinking.

In comparison to those statistics, there were 77 drivers involved in 49 alcohol-related crashes on the holiday in 2007 in Virginia. Sixty-two percent of those 77 drivers had been drinking. The most alcohol-related crashes that year were in Fairfax County, Hampton, and Portsmouth.

Across the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, there have been 327 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes over St. Patrick’s Day over the past five years. That accounts for approximately 38 percent of all traffic fatalities over the holiday during that period.

In 2007, there was one St. Patrick’s Day fatality in an alcohol-related crash in Virginia. There were none in 2008.

Bob Battle
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