The day before Thanksgiving has not gained the notoriety of Black Friday, infamous for its competitive shopping. But Blackout Wednesday is potentially one of the deadliest nights of the year.
Alternatively known as “Drinksgiving,” the day before Thanksgiving is known as the busiest bar night of the year, according to Karen Wolownik-Albert, executive director of Lake County Services for the Gateway Foundation.
“Many people head out to reconnect with family and friends who are home for the holiday, and (they) engage in dangerous binge drinking behavior; the consequences of such could ruin what should be a happy holiday season,” she said. “Consuming too much alcohol on this day, or any other, can increase your risk not only for future problem drinking, but also alcohol poisoning, auto accidents, health problems, becoming (a) victim of violence, or behaving in a manner you may later regret.”
The combination of pre-holiday revelers and out-of-town visitors makes for busier and therefore more dangerous roadways. Statistics from the Illinois Department of Transportation show that in 2016, 2,960 motor vehicle crashes occured during Thanksgiving weekend, compared to 1,940 over the 2016 Christmas holidays. The 2016 Thanksgiving weekend motor vehicle crashes resulted in a total of 881 injuries and 11 fatalities.
“We see a lot more traffic because of people coming in from out of town to celebrate the holiday,” said Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputy John Shallenberger. “A lot of college students are also coming home for break. We see a lot more people on the roadways who have obviously been celebrating and decide to drive home.”
Ray Koeppel, co-owner of The Fifth Quarter Sports Bar and Pizzeria in East Peoria, attested that the influx of pre-holiday revelers makes Blackout Wednesday the busiest night of his year.
“People aren’t concerned so much about food that night,” he said. “They’re having a big feast the next day. They’re concerned about drinking.”
Colleen Ingraham, owner of MacMahon’s Pints and Plates in Washington, believes that just before Thanksgiving and just before Christmas are especially busy periods throughout the food and beverage service industry. She differed with Koeppel’s assertion that patrons are less concerned with food than they are with beverages on Blackout Wednesday, noting that more people seem to eat out that evening.
“People are coming in from out of town, and they’ve got the big meal to get ready for the next day, so they go out to eat instead of making something at home,” she said. “We don’t handle intoxication any differently than we do the rest of the year. We discourage it, we monitor for it and we try to make sure our patrons leave as safely as possible.”
According to Shallenberger, there are traditionally extra police patrols on roadways throughout Illinois on Blackout Wednesday. Stepped-up patrols throughout Tazewell County will include seat belt enforcement zones and roadside safety checks.
“We will be looking for impaired drivers,” he said. “We’ll be on the lookout for people leaving roadways, driving with the headlights off, stopping at green lights and other signs that drivers might be intoxicated.”
While Blackout Wednesday remains a hazardous night for drivers, Koeppel believes that the emergence of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have alleviated the danger somewhat.
“In years past, people would forego a $30 cab ride and try to navigate themselves,” he said. “With outfits like Uber being so much cheaper, I think it’s a lot safer than it once was.”
Ingraham also touted ride-sharing services as an affordable and valuable resource in reducing the number of impaired drivers on local roadways.
“We offer our phones for people to use Uber apps,” she said. “We also have a taxi service that regularly sits in our parking lot in case anyone needs a ride.”