Celebrate smart this New Year

This evening will be filled with celebrations — gatherings of folks who may be bent on partying in perhaps a more indulgent way than they normally would. Enjoy yourselves, folks. Have fun. But for goodness sake, start the new year off right — celebrate responsibly and designate a driver or find some other way to avoid driving, if you choose to drink.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver increase by 34 percent during the Christmas and New Year’s season. The 12-hour window between 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and 6 a.m. New Year’s day has on average 71 percent more crashes where drugs or alcohol are listed as a factor (compared with an average weeknight).

Nothing is worth taking that kind of risk, ladies and gentlemen.

Plan ahead. Figure out how you are going to get home safely — call a cab, designate a driver … stick with soft drinks; and hosts, make sure you are paying attention to your guests and prepared to let someone sleep it off on the couch, if necessary. Keep the number for a cab company handy, too.

The danger does not end the morning after, according to AAA.

Driving hung over — tired, feeling ill, disoriented and probably with more alcohol left in your system than you realize — can be just as dangerous.

“That is why it’s important to not only arrange safe transportation the night of a party, but also the morning after,” said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central.

Be smart and safe as you ring in the new year. You owe it to yourself and everyone else on the road to do the right thing — don’t drink and drive.