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Category: News

safe-and-sober-targeted-teen-drinkers

Residents of Tempe, Arizona were expecting a crackdown this month. For the last two years police in that city have organized a nine-day blitz targeting underage drinking and street crime in late summer. The program was regarded by police as a success. But this year the crackdown won’t take place as scheduled.

The campaign, called “Safe and Sober,” would have begun at the start of the Arizona State University term. Police representatives would have passed out pamphlets declaring that loud parties and underage drinking are not tolerated. Patrols would have come out in force, broken up parties, and made arrests by the hundreds. Some of them would be DUIs, but the increased police presence would have resulted in many arrests for many types of crimes.

So what happened? Why is the campaign being scrapped, and another one put in its place?

Local residents have objected to Safe and Sober as too prone to violate citizens’ rights. Community policing is under the spotlight as never before, and the visible police presence and frequent traffic stops were causing controversy.

This year changes are being made. Police representatives will not wear uniforms on neighborhood walks, for one thing. The DUI arrests and party breakups will happen, but instead of a nine-day crackdown there will be a year-long education campaign against underage drinking.

It remains to be seen how this approach will work. Education is fundamental to any anti-DUI campaign. So is enforcement, which should include both standard penalties and an ignition interlock requirement. Finally, there is counseling and treatment, which have been shown to help, particularly when combined with the interlock requirement.

Some regret the change in the program, and others welcome it. But it’s a fact of life that these days, DUI enforcement needs to take into account community interests as well as public safety concerns.

Underage drinking is a tough nut to crack.

Peer pressure is at its maximum in middle- and high-schoolers. In those insecure years, kids will do almost anything to achieve popularity or a sense of belonging, and sadly, drinking is often the price of admission into the social elite.

North Carolina is a good example of how underage drinking can get out of hand. Research reveals that the average youth there has had his or her first drink by age 14. And so two organizations in Pitt County are teaming up to fight that trend.

The Pitt County Coalition on Substance Abuse and the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission are collaborating on a multimedia campaign called Talk It Out. The program is designed to foster communication between parents and kids.

At the program’s website, talkitoutnc.org, parents can learn how to talk with their kids about drinking. They’ll learn what all parents need to know, including tips such as:

  • Talk Early. It’s important to have conversations before they’re exposed to alcohol.
  • Don’t Just Say “No.” Explain Why. Kids need to know how dangerous it is. Just telling them to wait until they’re older won’t work.

The site also provides parents with guides on underage drinking so that parents can be well informed on the risks. It also gives them ideas on how to start the conversation.

Why all the emphasis on parents? Why is the program not an all-out effort aimed at scaring teens straight? Because that approach has not done well in the past – promoting communication and trust is a better way to help young people make better decisions. A 2014 study found that too many parents waited too late to start talking with their kids about underage drinking. It also found that most students agree that underage drinking is a problem, and that having their parents talk more about it to their kids would help.

We will probably never be entirely free of the problem of kids who drink – it’s notoriously difficult to constrain the behavior of kids who are too old to treat like babies, but too young to manage their own life decisions.  But if the problem is persistent, it is not insurmountable: with Talk It Out, Pitt County has found a way to attack underage drinking and change the course of quite a few young lives.

flagstaff-increase-in-dui-collisions

In a country where alcohol-related crash stastistics have been generally on the downturn for years, it’s always distressing to hear about a rise in DUI collisions. In this case, the city is Flagstaff, which saw its rate of alcohol-related crashes go from 64 to 87 in one year.

An increase in any given year could be an anomaly. But a shortage of police officers might account for the rise in Flagstaff DUI crashes. A year and a half ago Flagstaff’s police chief warned that the force was losing staff due to low pay and high workload. Currently the FPD is severely understaffed.

Too few police would of course explain why there were fewer traffic citations and DUI arrests.

And the lower DUI arrest rate might, in part, explain the crashes. Thanks to Arizona’s tough drunk driving laws, anyone convicted of driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher must install an ignition interlock. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

That means that a great number of Arizona arrests lead to a drunk driver that is effectively removed from the road. And a lack of arrests means that the driver is still on the road, a collision waiting to happen.

Strong drunk driving laws are the foundation of an anti-DUI operation, but enforcement is also vital. At present, thanks to money woes, the excellent laws that Arizona has passed are going, in part, unenforced.

It’s the ultimate penny-wise, pound foolish decision: drive home to avoid paying a cab fare after a night of drinking.

You’ll save $30, $40, or even $50. And you’ll run the risk of a DUI conviction, which carries fearsome costs with it.

buckeye-arizona-police-discourage-drunk-drivingThe Buckeye Arizona police decided to advertise this message to the city’s drivers by recycling an old police cruiser. The car is now half-taxi, half police car, and the message painted on it asks drivers to choose: the taxi ride home will cost you $50, the police car about $8,500.

In Arizona as elsewhere, the costs of a DUI arrest and conviction mount up fast.

  • Bail: Could range from hundreds to thousands
  • Court Costs: Can exceed $1,000
  • Attorney Fees: Could range from hundreds to thousands
  • Fines: First offense $1,600
  • Alcohol Education Classes: $40 to several hundred

There is also the monthly fee for an ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, which will need to be installed on the offender’s vehicle. An ignition interlock is a device that prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Arizona mandates ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses, including first offenses.

These are the immediate, calculable costs. If you lose your job, the financial effect can be overwhelming.

Everyone likes a bargain, but driving drunk is no way to save money. Whether or not you are in Buckeye, Arizona, and whether or not you’ve seen the cruiser parked in various places around the city, you should have gotten the message by now: designate a driver, or take a taxi. You’ll be saving a lot more than just money.

Up to now, North Carolina has been one of a large number of states that do not require mopeds to be insured. That is about to change, if Governor Pat McCrory signs House Bill 148, which will require $30,000 worth of liability insurance for every moped driver.

This law is just the next step in a trend that began last year when the state began requiring mopeds to be registered.

Why is this of interest? Because mopeds are widely seen in North Carolina as “DWI Mobiles.” Citizens of the state who have been convicted of impaired driving and have had their license suspended often buy mopeds to get around.

Senator Stan Bingham (R-Davidson) disapproves of the measure. He has a different idea: help more drivers with DWIs get ignition interlocks. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

If more DWI offenders were given ignition interlocks, then they wouldn’t be on mopeds in the first place.  While interlocks are not free for the offender, they are considerably cheaper than moped insurance for a driver with a DWI.

Opponents of Senator Bingham note that a large proportion of moped accidents are due to alcohol. But this seems to be a good argument for ignition interlocks instead of mopeds. Interlock devices cannot be installed on mopeds. If the offender uses a vehicle with an interlock, then we are assured that he or she will not be using alcohol behind the wheel. The same cannot be said of a moped.

It’s anyone’s guess if the governor will sign HB148. However, the option of an ignition interlock does seem like the best choice for a driver who wants to deal with an alcohol problem while avoiding the temptation to drive drunk. We hope Governor McCrory considers the whole picture and encourages the legislature to widen the scope of North Carolina’s interlock laws. That would be best for everyone in the state.

Last Tuesday members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other concerned citizens held a press conference at the General Assembly in Raleigh. The purpose was urge the North Carolina Legislature to pass a law requiring first DWI offenders to install ignition interlocks in their vehicles. Ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Ignition interlocks prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinkingIt’s a story that those who follow road safety have heard before, all over the country. Currently North Carolina requires interlock devices for repeat offenders or first offenders who are extremely drunk at the time of arrest. The law, SB 619/HB 877, would mandate interlocks for anyone convicted with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more.

It sounds extreme to some – after all, aren’t people entitled to one mistake? – but statistics tell us that a first DWI arrest comes after an offender has driven impaired about 80 times. License suspensions don’t work – every year tens of thousands of North Carolinians are picked up for driving without a license. Ignition interlocks are they only means of ensuring that a driver does not get behind the wheel while drunk.

Recently Texas was the 25th state to pass an all-offender ignition interlock law. Perhaps North Carolina will be the one to tip the balance and make such states a majority in the union.

Police departments and road safety advocates are on board with such laws. It’s up to the North Carolina Legislature now. Let’s hope they pass a bill that will save many lives in North Carolina, year after year.

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