On the night before Thanksgiving, beer sales at bars and restaurants jump more than 270 percent and liquor sales more than double compared to a typical Wednesday, according to a survey of more than 3,000 establishments by the restaurant software maker Upserve.

It’s no wonder the popular party night has earned names such as “Blackout Wednesday” and “Drinksgiving.” It’s become one of the biggest drinking days and most dangerous travel days of the year, rivaling New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol.

“It will be very busy for us,” Nielson said. The same will be true for officers from 300 law enforcement agencies across the state looking for inebriated drivers.

On a typical Wednesday, 47 people are tagged for drunken driving in Minnesota. On “Blackout Wednesday,” that number jumps to an average of 74, according to 2011-2015 data from the Department of Public Safety. There were 14 deaths during that period.

Nielson has a warning for Wednesday revelers: “Be cautious. Even one mixed drink or craft beer could land a person in hot water,” she said. “Use a designated driver, walk or call an Uber. Use a safe way to get home.”

Nationwide, no holiday has more deadly crashes than the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. More than 483 people died in crashes last year and 41 percent of those (199) were alcohol-related, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Many factors contribute to the dangerous travel conditions, said Sgt. John Eastham of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. Young people are home from college and adults know they don’t have to go to work the next day, so they tie a few on.

And roads are crowded: AAA estimates that 45.5 million people will drive to Thanksgiving festivities this year, the most since 2005.

“People are in a hurry and drive too fast,” Eastham said. There’s also more distracted driving and a decline in seat belt use. “We see people make bad decisions.”

Tickets are not his department’s goal, he said.

“The misconception is that we are out only to make arrests,” he said. “We want to prevent fatalities. We’d be happy if we didn’t have to stop people for this.”

Faster trips on Hwy. 169

Alert Drive reader Todd noticed that the speed limit on Hwy. 169 through New Hope, Golden Valley, Edina and Hopkins is now 60 miles per hour, up from 55.

“Did I miss some sort of news release about speed limit changes in the metro?” he asked in an e-mail. “I did a double take getting on 169 south of 394 as I passed the first speed limit sign posted at 60 mph then another and another. Any idea on what the scoop is?”

It stems from a 2014 law in which the Legislature ordered MnDOT to review speed limits on two-lane highways and some others.

“This is part of that process,” said MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens, who added that there was no announcement. “We just changed it [two weeks ago]. People will figure it out.”

Speeds also recently changed on parts of Hwys. 7, 13, 47 and 101 in the Twin Cities.

Todd noticed that Hwy. 100 remains 55 mph south of I-394 even though that road has wider lanes and better sight lines than 169. MnDOT is reviewing speeds there and on local interstates as part of the study that is ongoing through 2019, Aeikens said.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.