Police say local jails are preparing Thanksgiving dinners for drunken drivers celebrating Blackout Wednesday.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller and State Police Trooper Glen Fifield announced a joint crackdown on impaired driving and seat belt violations, and enforcement of pedestrian safety during the upcoming holiday.
"We are here to saves lives," Buncich said Thursday during a press conference at the Hammond Police Department.
State, county and Hammond police will conduct saturation patrols and have a heightened presence on interstates highways, U.S. 41, Cline Avenue and outside Hammond bars for drunken driving and Hammond schools for pedestrian safety.
It's part of the annual Safe Family Travel campaign beginning this weekend and running through the Dec. 1-2 weekend.
Miller said the effort is targeting people who will be drawn to bars Wednesday night.
He said it has become known as "Blackout Wednesday" because "it's become the most popular drinking night, replacing New Year's Eve."
He said the binge drinking combined with increased car traffic has created serious safety problems in the past.
Kathryn Henry, media relations person for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said 416 motorists died in traffic crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend nationwide last year.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data indicate 60 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing their seat belts and 42 percent were killed in crashes that involved a drunken driver who had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit, Henry said.
State police said there were 140 fatalities and more than 2,000 injuries in 2011 linked to alcohol-impaired collisions, which were less than 3 percent of all Indiana crashes, but accounted for 19 percent of Indiana’s 749 traffic fatalities that year.
Buncich said there were 355 alcohol-related accidents statewide last year that resulted in 155 injuries, including dozens in Lake County alone. He said there have been 14 recent traffic fatalities in the county's rural section, several of which were alcohol-related.
Miller said Hammond police will heavily patrol Kennedy Avenue's big bar district and warned that Hammond City Judge Jeffrey Harkin has increased the bond for drunken driving arrests to $2,000 during the holiday period.
Fifield said, "If you see someone driving in an erratic manner, they are probably impaired and we ask you call 911 and give the location, vehicle description and direction of travel."
State police also will conduct a sobriety checkpoint Friday night in Jasper County as part of the holiday traffic safety.