COLUMBIA, Mo.–The spirit of the season often becomes the season of spirits for too many holiday revelers. Combining drinking with driving can lead to accidents, injuries and death, as recently illustrated when an auto accident in Dallas involving two professional football players left one dead and the other facing felony charges.

“Drinking and driving are all too often a lethal combination,” says John Worden, director of University of Missouri Extension’s Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia. “The holiday season—especially New Year’s celebrations—merely increases the chances for many of us to overindulge in alcohol. Driving after imbibing should not be in the mix.”

In 2011 there were 258 traffic deaths in Missouri related to drunk driving, accounting for 33 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state last year, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a national group aimed at preventing drunk driving.

The National Safety Council estimates there will be 445 motor-vehicle deaths during the upcoming four-day New Year’s holiday (6 p.m. Dec. 31 to midnight Jan. 4). More than a third of those will be alcohol-related.

“Be smart—don’t get behind the wheel after drinking,” urges Worden. “Plan to have a designated driver, call a cab or contact local groups that offer free or reduced fares to stranded inebriates.

“And for everyone driving during the holidays, or at any time, be sure to buckle your seat belts. It’s the biggest edge you can have to survive a collision with a drunken driver.”

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