Category: News

Of the many approaches that exist to remove drunk drivers from the roads, Operation Safe Streets is one that really works.

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Bar’s parking lot after an operation : these cars would have been driven by drunks.

Concerned about the backlog of DWI arrests – a backlog which resulted in thrown-out cases and wasted time and money – Chief Michael Crowley of the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Board asked the question, “Why don’t we go to the places where people are drinking and stop them from getting in their cars?”

It was the right question to ask, and so operation Safe Streets was born. ABC officers began going to popular bar districts, finding drinkers who were on their way to the parking lot, and asking them if they thought they were in shape to drive. Most admitted they weren’t. Then the officers asked if they had a designated driver inside, or someone who could pick them up. If so, they made that arrangement. If not, a taxi was summoned.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Some drinkers didn’t have the money for a taxi. Officers in Operation Safe Streets gave them a voucher for a taxi ride.

michael-crowley-chief-mecklenburg-county-ABC

Chief Michael Crowley,
Mecklenburg ABC

“In 10 operations, we got about 457 people home safely, and it cost about $450 in cab fares.” Think of what having 450 drunk drivers on the road might have cost: hospital bills, repair charges, legal fees, and costs to the state for arrest, prosecution and possibly imprisonment.

Taxpayers do not pay for Operation Safe Streets: it’s funded 100 per cent by the sale of spirits, which are controlled in North Carolina. Five percent of all alcohol sales must go to law enforcement in the state. So we have an unusual case in which alcohol actually helps prevent drunk driving.

With success proven, the program is part of the county’s strategic plan.

Chief Crawley notes that the police still do sobriety checkpoints and enforce DWI laws. If a drinker refuses to cooperate, the officers have their arrest powers. But the idea is to promote responsible behavior. “It’s not about arrest, arrest, arrest. It’s about people being responsible when consuming alcohol.”

After an operation, it’s common to see a number of cars sitting in a bar’s parking lot. Those are vehicles that would have been on the road, piloted by drunk drivers, had Operation Safe Streets not been there.

“We can make it safe for everybody,” says Crowley. “We feel it’s a good investment in the community.”

hands-across-the-border-catch-duiBorder-hopping between US states is easy, thanks to a free passage tradition that goes back to 1781 and the Articles of Confederation. However, as of yesterday drunk drivers have had a trickier time crossing borders in a few southern states, thanks to Hands Across the Border, a law enforcement campaign designed to catch those driving under the influence.

Five states are teaming up with North Carolina: Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida. Law enforcement officers have set up checkpoints near state borders. State troopers, deputies and other officers are be looking for drunk and suspended drivers, as well as fugitives and people driving with outstanding warrants.

Cross-border travel is lively at this time of year because of the wealth of vacation destinations in the areas near the borders.

The campaign will run five days. While the nationwide “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign will run concurrently with it, the two are separate efforts.  Hands Across the Border is designed to catch drunk drivers in the days before Labor Day weekend. These days are seen as the last chance to enjoy summer on the road, but as we know, too many people enjoy alcohol and then decide to drive home.

Hands Across the Border has been around for years. It’s caught a fair share of drunk drivers, fugitives, and also uninsured and suspended drivers. It’s also served notice to those who have incorrectly restrained children. No doubt this week will be no different. We hope that the message of the high-profile finally sinks in, and the number of impaired drivers on the road eventually drops.

designated-driver-reward-gas-cardThe designated driver is one of the heroes of our age. They might not look like X-Men, but these fine people save thousands of lives each year by helping friends avoid a dangerously bad decision.

Their rewards are few – a slurred “Thanks, man” or a pat on the shoulder. Don’t they deserve more for preventing an unbelievable amount of carnage?

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department thinks so. So police in Tucson set up a DUI checkpoint to watch for drunk drivers. Since school is starting, students are on the move, which means there’s a likelihood of impaired young people on the road. Whenever the police found a sober driver and tipsy passengers, the driver got a $25 gas card. All they needed to do was blow a zero on the breathalyzer.

Will this gesture end drunk driving in Tucson? Probably not. But it will give the designated drivers pause, and give them a sense that they really are of value to their peers and their pima-county-sheriffs-deptcommunity. And that suggests that they’ll continue being designated drivers.

Bravo to Tucson and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department publicizing the great work that designated drivers do. For once, they get a bit of the glory they deserve. And their passengers get a safe ride home. It works for everybody.

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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.

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