On driver safety, Halloween should not be scary

Halloween is about a week away, and decorations are filling yards and trick-or-treaters are choosing costumes with care.

As preparations continue, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and its safety partners are urging motorists to celebrate safely and never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Representatives from PennDOT, the Pennsylvania DUI Association and law enforcement hosted a media event at Clarion University, Venango Campus, on Friday morning. The event addressed impaired driving, and encouraged people to drive safely and take extra caution during Halloween.

“Halloween can be a fun holiday for both children and adults,” Franklin state police Community Service Officer Michelle McGee said. “It is important for people to have proper planning to arrive and return safely with a sober driver.”

McGee encouraged anyone who encounters an impaired driver to call 911.

Craig Amos, a regional program administrator with the Pennsylvania DUI Association, said drivers can be affected by the influence of drugs as well as alcohol.

“There is an issue of drug-impaired driving; not just alcohol-impaired driving,” Amos said.

He reminded drivers that even prescription drugs can impair a person’s driving ability.

“Medical cannabis does have the ability to impair a person’s driving until they acclimate to it,” Amos said. “If you feel different, you drive different.”

Since 2018, there have been 1,327 crashes in Pennsylvania on Halloween, resulting in eight fatalities, according to PennDOT.

In the same three-year span, there have been 63 Halloween crashes in PennDOT’s District 1, which covers Venango, Forest, Crawford, Mercer, Warren and Erie counties. Three of the crashes were alcohol-related.

Amos encouraged drivers to plan ahead to ensure they have a safe way of getting home.

“Let’s avoid these tragedies,” he said.

Even a small amount of drugs or alcohol can adversely affect someone’s ability to drive by hindering coordination, judgment and reaction times, PennDOT said. Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause extreme drowsiness, dizziness and other side effects.

Pennsylvania has a zero tolerance law that carries serious consequences for those under age 21 who are convicted of driving with any amount of alcohol in their blood.

For someone under age of 21, driving with a blood-alcohol content of .02 or greater can lead to a 12-to-18-month license suspension, 48 hours to six-months of incarceration, and fines ranging from $500 to $5,000.

During the event, PennDOT District 1 Safety Press Officer Saxon Daugherty reminded the community that a vehicle does not have to be involved in order for those under age 21 to lose their driving privileges.

It is against the law for an individual under age 21 to consume, possess or transport alcohol, or lie about their age to obtain alcohol and carry a fake identification card.

“If convicted, the minimum penalties are a fine of up to $500, plus court costs; a 90-day license suspension for the first offense; a one-year suspension for the second offense; and a two-year suspension for the third and subsequent offenses,” Daugherty said.

Pedestrian safety also is highlighted during this law enforcement initiative. Drivers should be on the lookout for a higher-than-usual number of pedestrians during low-light or dark conditions, as communities host Halloween trick-or-treating activities. There have been three pedestrian-related crashes in the northwest region on Halloween since 2018.

PennDOT encourages drivers to slow down when approaching crosswalks and intersections, expect the unexpected, obey the speed limit, and be aware of pedestrians.

Pedestrians are encouraged to only cross the street at crosswalks; look left, right, then left again before crossing; obey traffic signals; watch children; and wear bright, reflective clothing and carry a flashlight.